Arguments that the law must always be followed is undemocratic, and is at the source submission to authoritarianism. Sometimes the law is bad, and it is the duty of a moral human being to break it. This has been the heart of international law since the end of World War 2. A soldier can not, for instance, use the defence that he or she only followed orders or the law.

zinnThere are many cases where we celebrate this principle. Rosa Parks should not have been jailed for sitting in the wrong place on the bus. Nelson Mandela did not belong in Robben Island prison. Ghandi should not have been imprisoned for leading an Indian revolt.

I don’t want to Godwin the thread, but the most extreme example I can think of is that it was not only the law, but the duty and expectation of the German citizen to report any Jew so that the ‘enemy of all things German’ could be taken care of. I think most people would not think that the people who refused to follow that law should be in prison.

We have had the Magna Charta in this country for nearly a thousand years, and all our laws come from the principles enshrined in that document. The Magna Charta has, of course, been replaced in law – but the essence of its principles existed in whatever replaced them. Now we learn that those principles are no longer valid English and Welsh law.

And we have all these people flooding all the stories about NSA and Snowden to damn him and anyone who protests: “Snowden should follow the law!” No. Sometimes the law is an ass, and it should not be followed. That is the moral duty of any human being to decide. If the case behind a decision to not follow the law is valid, then that is the shield for democracy itself.

People that damn Snowden to follow the law do not come to celebrate democracy and the law. They come to bury it.