Bishop of Ely refers back to recent riots and speaks of vulnerability of the law

THE Bishop of Ely told Cambridgeshire magistrates that the rule of law in this country is generally acknowledged to be by consent and of its vulnerability when that consent is withdrawn.

The Rt Revd Stephen Conway was reflecting on the implications of the summer riots in many parts of England at the 2011 Legal Service in Ely Cathedral celebrating the 650th anniversary of lay magistracy.

The Bishop suggested that it was possible to “prevent anti-social activity by building the right kind of partnerships across every community, taking everyone seriously as adults or children, even when they have stepped beyond what is acceptable and good.”

Bishop Conway told his congregation of legal practitioners, emergency service personnel and academics that the keeping of the law is about common consent and that recent events in England had reinforced this basic notion: “We all know, however, this [defending and enforcing the law] is all by consent.

“The recent riots showed how immediately vulnerable our law enforcement can be when that consent is withdrawn by any significant group of people, even though order is soon restored.”

He added: “Every society lives with the fact that there are some people who behave in a sociopathic way, who do not believe that the usual expectations of the community apply to them.

“Others are so completely alienated and angry that they want their own back on society. Others, for whatever reason, live in such chaos that law and boundaries are irrelevant to them, as much to their own harm as the harm to the property or wellbeing of others.”

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The Bishop was also concerned about economic cut backs and their effects on the legal profession with the closure of local courts and the decision to use more district judges rather than lay magistrates.

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