I won’t have much to say about Chapter 2 of Tom Bingham’s book Rule of Law (available here), which surveys several “historical milestones” in Anglo-American legal history, beginning with the Magna Carta of 1215 and concluding with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. (Judge Bingham does include one “foreign” (i.e. non-English-language) milestone in his survey: the “The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen“, which was adopted by France’s National Assembly in the summer of 1789 during the start of the French Revolution.) Alas, Bingham’s short history of the rule of law contains many omissions. He fails to explain, for example, why the ill-fated French Declaration of Rights was such an ineffectual legal document, one that failed to curb the violence of the Reign of Terror (1792-94) or prevent Napoleon’s consolidation of power in 1799, nor does Bingham have much to say–at least not in Chapters 1 or 2 of his book–about the English jury system, the hallmark of the English common law tradition and perhaps the single-most important aspect of the rule of law. Suffice it to say that, next time, I will not assign Chapter 2 to my students. Instead, I will assign John Langbein’s “The four epochs of jury trial in England” (available here) or his essay on “The English criminal trial jury on the eve of the French Revolution” (here). (Full disclosure: John Langbein was my favorite professor when I was his student at the Yale Law School.)
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