Enduring images of Iraq are usually of statues of Saddam Hussein being toppled and, more troublingly, of bombs, guns and fires.
Every year there is a ceremony at Westminster Abbey for the start of the new legal year. We dress in our ceremonial robes and wigs and process in. We invite overseas guests, who see that it symbolises stability, continuity, independence and the rule of law. Last year the chief justice of Iraq, Faiq Zidan, attended as his first official visit abroad. We take it all for granted. He did not.
This year, to celebrate the Iraqi judiciary, he invited us to attend a ceremony that he created after his positive impressions and realisation of the utility of such a ceremony in London. I attended with my colleague from the Court of Appeal, Lady Justice Rafferty, and His Honour Judge Andrew Hatton, who sits in the Crown Court and is a director of judicial training. We were guests of honour sitting among 341 senior Iraqi judges flown in from all over Iraq.
Dozens of judges visit Britain every year. They envy and want to learn from the respect and trust society still has in us. From time to time we visit other states — judges are taking a new approach to international work and are developing strategic and sustainable relationships in unexpected directions. Justice is an invisible export. But no senior judicial delegation from anywhere in the world had visited Iraq since at least 2003.
Where justice is lacking, grave difficulties arise for society. The chief justice’s stated ambition is to address this deficiency and to demonstrate to Iraqis, and the world, the importance of the rule of law and his commitment to it. In conversations throughout our visit we found common ground, while acknowledging our differences. In Iraq the rule of law is particularly crucial to the rights of individuals, providing a secure foundation for investment and combating corrosive corruption and terrorism.
We appreciate that, under the leadership of the present chief justice, the Iraqi courts may be an island in a choppy sea, but strengthening it can only help in addressing the formidable problems that remain. It is noteworthy that the Iraqi judiciary has been asked to supervise the forthcoming elections, where it can demonstrate its independence. To make progress, especially against corruption, there must be a properly functioning court system.
We were also encouraged by the forthright views and courage of the impressive president of the Iraqi Bar Association, Ahlam Alami. She has been listed in the top ten most influential personalities in Iraq for 2017. She is the only woman on that list and the first woman to lead the association.
We hope there will be a productive and continuing relationship between our judiciaries. All of us who visited Baghdad were affected by the experience and the potential for impact on a national scale. Justice is never to be taken for granted.
Lord Justice Gross is lead judge for international relations, a former senior presiding judge and sits in the Court of Appeal