This is both a timely book and a book of its time. Written in plain English – plain enough to make Orwell proud- these lectures from 1949 very clearly make the case for the English view of rights (which I think should fairly be called the British view of rights).
As you would expect with Denning everything is black and white and Denning, of course is always on the side of the angels.
He is with the English against the French, the Russians (both recent allies) and the Germans (recent foes). He is with the French against the Russians, with the common people against arbitrary authority, with parliament against the executive, with the judges against the executive and, ultimately against parliament. He is with the modern judiciary against the judiciary of old. No-one can be trusted save, ultimately, the current judiciary i.e. Denning himself. Whilst there is plenty of critique of others, Denning’s approach does not suggest that the judges of 1949 thought there was much wrong with what they themselves were doing.
Given that much of this short book (it is only 126 pages) is concerned with running down the opposition, you have 2 choices. Enjoy the pantomime, with straw men knocked down aplenty, or be more selective.
This book is showing its age particularly in terms of the writer’s attitudes which are, well, a touch 1949 for my tastes. But it brims with a bright shining confidence about the practical importance and cultural nature of ‘freedom under the law’ and is a good read for that reason. I came away marvelling about the optimism with which Denning was writing.
I thought the following were particularly worth a read:
Personal Freedom (pages 5-6).
First principle: No one to be imprisoned except by the judgment of a court or pending trial (page 6).
Second principle: Freedom from arbitrary arrest (page 16).
The balancing of interests (page 24).
Third principle: Freedom from Oppression (page 26).
including Freedom from Torture (pages 27-29).
Freedom of Mind and Conscience (pages 35-36).
First Principle: Freedom of Speech (pages 38-39,44-45).
Second Principle: Freedom of Religion (page 46).
Third Principle: Racial Freedom (by which Denning meant freedom from discrimination) (page 51).
Justice between [people] and the state.
including balancing types of rights and balancing rights and obligations (pages 67-70).
Judges could not make changes but parliament could (pages 72-74).
The responsibility of the State:
including the rise of the welfare state (page 75),
and the role of the jury (pages 84-85).
The powers of the Executive (pages 99-126)
This part makes for a particularly interesting read because Denning makes explicit the impact of French ideas on the developing process of judicial review.