What is law for? Modern legal theorists offer many different accounts. But the Greeks would not have had much difficulty in answering the question. It is writ large across the Oresteia. In Aeschylus’s trilogy of plays, the characters live in barbarism and chaos – child sacrifice, murder, vendetta – until the law frees them from all that unpleasantness and provides them with a more harmonious mode of living. The rule of law creates a stable structure upon which a civilised society can rest, because it affords the members of such a society stability of expectations. Put very plainly, the existence of general, abstract, intelligible, clear rules, which will be enforced if broken, helps people to know where they stand – and to plan their lives accordingly. Without the existence of such rules, chaos beckons.
I was thinking of all of this while reading through Adil v General Medical Council  EWCA Civ 1261, a decision handed down by the Court of Appeal late in 2023. (I wrote about the High Court’s judgment in Adil v GMC  EWHC 797 (Admin), which gave rise to the appeal in question, here.) The judgment reveals how confused we have become about the rule of law. And it reveals in particular the entropic consequences, if I can put the matter in those terms, of that confusion. We are, in short, in a bit of a muddle about law, and – as Aeschylus might have predicted – this is having chaotic and disorderly consequences for society in the round.
Mr. Adil is a surgeon, originally from Pakistan, but who has been living in the U.K. since around 1990. He had a basically unblemished career until early 2020, when coronavirus began to dominate the news, whereupon he began uploading and appearing in various YouTube videos to propagate views which Swift J., in the High Court, later called “outlandish”: that the SARS-CoV-2 virus did not exist at all; that the ‘pandemic’ had been concocted by the British, American and Israeli Governments; that the vaccine had been developed by Bill and Melinda Gates in order to inject microchips into the bloodstream, and so on. He was disciplined by a Medical Practitioners Tribunal and given a six month suspension for undermining public health, expressing views that were contrary to widely-accepted medical opinion and undermining public confidence in the medical profession. It was also heavily implied that he had to take down his videos and demonstrate evidence of ‘insight’, which seems to be a code-word for contrition. He appealed that decision to the High Court, and lost; and later appealed that decision to the Court of Appeal – and also lost.
There are a few reasons why he lost, most of them demonstrating the extent to which we have departed from the application of what I earlier called “general, abstract, intelligible, clear rules”. Here, I am afraid we have to go into a bit of detail, but it will be worth it in the end.