I love the British Empire

A court in Zimbabwe has overturned a police ban on an opposition rally in Harare. This is far from the first time that the judiciary has asserted itself in a former British territory. It was attempts to tame the judiciary that led to the collapse in support for President Musharraf in Pakistan. When Sani Abacha in Nigeria wanted to murder Ken Saro-Wiwa, he convened a special miliatry tribunal, because he was not confident of getting the result he wanted from the Nigerian courts. In 1940s South Africa the courts struck down as unconstitutional the first apartheid laws.

An independent judiciary is not a sufficient bulwark to defend liberty. The apartheid laws were eventually adopted; Ken Saro-Wiwa was still killed; and there is no guarantee that Zimbabwe's police and army are going to take any notice at all of the court ruling. It is not sufficient, but it is necessary.

Look at the way the transition to post-apartheid rule in South Africa has been managed. It is difficult to imagine that it could have been so smooth without an independent judiciary.

And where else in the world does such a thing exist? Does Raul Castro - and did Fidel - stop to consider, even for a moment, whether or not the courts will deliver the "right" verdict in any trial? Does Vladimir Putin ever worry that Russia's courts will overturn one of his decisions or fail to convict one of his enemies? Does any part of the former empires of France, Spain, Portugal or Russia have the slightest concern about decisions of their courts?

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