Letter: Judges can protect our civil rights

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Sir: Conor Gearty in his review of Ronald Dworkin's illuminating Life's Dominion (12 June) portrays Professor Dworkin's argument as constitutionally flawed because it leads to the transfer of power from elected politicians to unaccountable judges. This is a criticism that many may find self-recommending. However, is it not the case that democracy is often best served by the individual citizen taking a decision rather than a judge or a politician? The principled constitution that Professor Dworkin advocates gives the individual power over his own life. How abhorrent it would be if elected politicians were free to make certain decisions for us; say to forbid any citizen from having more than two children.

Judges applying a principled constitution are not empowered to decide that a woman should never have an abortion, nor as unchecked legislators might, that a woman must abort a fetus in certain circumstances. Their role is the more limited one of deciding when politicians can deprive the individual of the freedom to choose for herself.

Judges can never take such important decisions uninfluenced by their own political or moral beliefs. However, individual autonomy and responsibility is a fundamental value central to our conception of a democratic society. The function of judges would not be to usurp the vital decisions but to defend the individual's right to decide.

Yours faithfully,

PETER MANTLE

London, WC1

14 June

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