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Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Alex Chalk's urgent call to strengthen international order

Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Alex Chalk's urgent call to strengthen international order


In a profound and timely speech delivered at the Washington DC campus of Johns Hopkins University, the Rt Hon Alex Chalk KC MP, the Lord Chancellor, addressed a distinguished audience on the crucial need to reinforce the rule of law in the international arena.

The speech, delivered on January 31, 2024, tackled the historical context of the international order, the challenges it faces today, and the imperative for the global community to unite in safeguarding its foundations.

The Lord Chancellor commenced his address with a nod to the historical ties between the United States and the United Kingdom, referencing Charles Dickens' observations during his 1842 visit to the United States. The Lord Chancellor expressed admiration for America and its history, acknowledging the defining principle articulated by John Adams – that America is a 'nation of laws, not of men.' Drawing on his legal background as a barrister, the Lord Chancellor emphasized the inalienable right of citizens to legal defence, as demonstrated by John Adams in the eighteenth century.

The central theme of the speech revolved around the international rule of law, defined as a framework where all nations adhere to common rules and principles in their interactions, underpinned by mutual consent, peaceful dispute resolution, and respect for international institutions. The Lord Chancellor argued passionately that these principles are not merely theoretical notions but serve as guarantors of freedom, security, and prosperity for citizens worldwide.

The Lord Chancellor then drew attention to the contemporary challenges facing the rule of law, asserting that a global contest of ideas is underway. He identified a stark dichotomy between rule of law nations and those promoting an authoritarian alternative, where 'might is always right.' The Lord Chancellor contended that the post-World War II consensus, assumed to be unshakeable, is now under threat, necessitating a collective effort to shore up its foundations.

The threefold attack on the rule of law, as outlined by the Lord Chancellor, included the erosion of respect for agreements that have maintained global stability since 1945, the destabilizing geopolitical landscape placing non-aligned states in a precarious position, and the vulnerability of the poorest countries to authoritarian influence.

Addressing the first threat, the Lord Chancellor pointed to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Hamas's unlawful assaults as demonstrations of the diminishing respect for legally recognized borders. The second threat highlighted the dilemma faced by middle-ground and non-aligned states caught in the crossfire of conflicts, potentially leading them to form alliances that undermine the rules-based international order. The third threat underscored the challenges faced by the poorest countries, where economic advances enabled by the international order are overshadowed by struggles against hunger, climate change, and increased populations.

The Lord Chancellor advocated for accountability, consequences for international crimes, and a collective effort by rule of law nations to demonstrate the efficacy of the international order. The speech concluded with a call for the evolution of legal systems in response to advancing technology, ensuring justice is accessible, and fostering innovation and growth in lawtech. The Lord Chancellor affirmed the indispensable relationship between the UK and the US in defending the rule of law and championing a more secure and prosperous future for the world.