RECENTLY I was talking to a friend about two particularly memorable games that he was involved in as a young rugby player. The first was memorable for all the wrong reasons due to the inexperience of the referee who was presiding over his first game. The ref’s uncertainty meant that the match soon descended into a physically violent game which included one player being knocked unconscious and stretchered off. The rest of the game was played in an atmosphere of insecurity, fear and ugliness due to there being no law at work, with the referee an absent presence. By contrast the second game was one overseen by someone who had just been appointed as an international referee. Throughout the match he communicated with the players from both sides, talking to them, warning them where necessary, telling them when they had done wrong, explaining his decisions and creating a confidence on the field so that the players were able to concentrate on the game, playing to the full in the knowledge that they were being overseen by someone who made the game safe.

The rule of law, fairly administered and respected by all, provided a level playing field. Without it there was chaos.

In the past days we have witnessed political leaders at home and abroad taking the decision to ignore the law and to model an approach in defiance of it. On Saturday the European Union said that it deplored “the increasingly open disregard for the rule of law in Belarus” after security forces were involved in kidnapping and exiling members of the main opposition body following President Alexander Lukashenko’s much disputed claim that he had won a landslide victory in recent elections. On Sunday, Donald Trump held an indoor rally in Nevada in open defiance of state regulations and his own administration’s pandemic health guidelines, telling a packed, nearly mask-less Nevada crowd that the nation was making the last turn in defeating the virus. On Monday our own Government instigated legislation which, on its own admission, breaches international law.

There is an obvious issue for a government which on the same day seeks to legally enforce the rule of six at home and legislates to break laws with its partners abroad. The eradication of the rule of law is not just a technical matter for jurists but rather something that has an impact upon us all. The Dominic Cummings affair demonstrated the corrosive effect of high level rule breaking upon a society that polices by consent. One rule for them, one for us. If you don’t have to obey, then neither do I.

The longest Psalm in the Bible, Psalm 119, is a poem of 176 verses with a common theme of thankfulness to God for his law. Verses 34-35 are typical: “Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.”

To modern ears the kind joys to be found in the praise of the law can sound strange, especially in societies that might regard any mention of the law negatively, associating it with restriction. But when the law operates for the sake of the common good in a way that is clear and consistent, we all benefit. And when the rule of law is broken or ignored, we all lose.

  • Arun Arora is vicar of St Nicholas Church, Durham