'British justice is the finest in the world' - an examination of Anglo-American boasting

Darbyshire, Penny (2015) 'British justice is the finest in the world' - an examination of Anglo-American boasting. In: Society of Legal Scholars (SLS) Annual Conference 2015: Law’s Subjects: Subject to Law; 1-4 Sep 2015, York, U.K.. (Unpublished)


In the 1960s, I was taught by my mother that “British justice is the finest in the world” and I heard this phrase very frequently, from the mouths of ordinary people. This rhetoric is not so prolific nowadays, although one still hears it said occasionally, or “British justice is the envy of the world”. This paper explores instances of this smugness, from the fourteenth century onwards, in the rhetoric of such writers as Fortescue, Hale, Coke, Blackstone, Stephens, Miss Hamlyn and her Hamlyn lecturers, and contemporary folk. The paper explores the focal points of the rhetoric, which appear to be the common law, Magna Carta, jury trial, the “abolition” of torture, and the rights of the accused in criminal procedure. Jingoistic bragging about English criminal procedure is routinely juxtaposed with an attack on the French and the Turks, who were said to believe people guilty until proven innocent. The boast sailed over the Atlantic, alongside the common law and the English language. Just as de Toqueville had observed, modern Americans still convince themselves that American justice is the finest in the world and American democracy is the world’s only model of democracy.

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