How do you solve a problem like Scalia?

With half-hearted apologies for the dreadful pun.

BBC Radio Four’s Law in Action podcast is a recent find (I used to listen to the radio version some time ago) – but it has been a good one so far. On Wednesday evening, I listened to a remarkable episode, being an interview (read a written summary here, or head over and grab the podcast for the whole thing) with Justice Antonin Scalia of the US Supreme Court, who was in town to give a lecture – not the first time he’s gone out to give a speech! Scalia, probably the most recognisable and controversial member of the court (and thus a great interviewee, despite the fact that I disagree with many – indeed, most – of his views) gave a very frank interview (on themes rather than specific cases, most of the time) to the BBC’s Clive Coleman, who was more than a match for Scalitastic arguments. Context was provided by academic Conor Gearty (LSE) and Supreme Court-watching journalist Jess Braven.

The interview, as I said, was a tie-in with Scalia’s lecture on “Judging Under A Bill Of Rights” (no text available, that I know of, but a lovely summary from Guardian columnist and former Law in Action presenter Marcel Berlins here), and covered everything from interpretation, judicial appointments and cameras in courtrooms to flag-burning, Guantanamo Bay and the death penalty, with some comments on torture already sending bloggers running to their keyboards. Scalia also gave some general guidance related to his lecture topic of how to deal with bills of rights, which dovetailed quite nicely with Jack Straw flying to Washington to give a speech on a possible British Bill of Rights at George Washington University. Here’s a copy of the speech; personally, I’m disappointed that he didn’t touch on the question of socio-economic rights at all, which is what I’d identify as the obvious ‘gap’ in UK human rights law after the incorporation of the (civil/political-focused) European Convention on Human Rights and the UK opt-out from the EU’s (all types of everything rights) Charter of Fundamental Rights. No, it seems that the gap is more the absence of duties – but we’ll see what he comes up with, so I’m not writing him off as a man of straw just yet!

In what’s been an interesting week, then, for UK constitution-watchers, David Pannick’s column in the Times dealt with the soon-to-be-unleashed UK Supreme Court and his view that they should sit as a large panel rather than smaller panels. As many great judges on collegiate courts have said through the years, I agree.

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