Respect for the law at ‘breaking point’ new survey shows

Respect for the law at ‘breaking point’ new survey shows

  • 32.5% of the UK public believe it is acceptable to break the law
  • 87.66% agree that lawbreaking by public figures damages respect for the rule of law
  • Over two-thirds (68.7%) believe that respect for the law has decreased in the last five years
  • 22.6% believe it is acceptable for the government to break the law

Respect for the law has been described as being at ‘breaking point’ following the release of a new survey of public opinion.

The survey, which was commissioned by Birmingham Law Society as a result of a series of reports of high-profile lawbreakers and attacks on the integrity of the legal system, shows that one third of the British public surveyed now believe it is acceptable to break the law.

According to the survey of 1,000 British members of the public, 32.5% believe it is acceptable to break the law, while 22.6% believe members of government can break the law. The survey, which was commissioned following the Attorney General, Robert Buckland’s, admission that the government’s Internal Market Bill will break the law, also found that 35.5% of the public thought it acceptable for the UK Government to threaten to break international law, with 24% admitting it depended on the reasons.

The damaging effect of lawbreaking by public figures is highlighted by the fact that almost all (96.5%) believe it is important that society’s leaders obey the law, with 87.6% of the public agreeing that lawbreaking by those in the public eye damages respect for the rule of law.

Inez Brown, President of the Birmingham Law Society, believes that as a society the UK is at a critical juncture: “We commissioned this survey to judge whether the high-profile attacks on the legal system, along with lawbreaking by prominent public figures, including politicians, footballers and government advisers, are having an adverse effect on public’s willingness to abide by the rule of law. The results clearly demonstrate that we are at breaking point and that we must work to re-establish the principle of the rule of law in the minds of the British public.”

However, the survey also demonstrates that there is growing concern about the decline in respect for the rule of law with over two-thirds (68.7%) believing that respect has decreased in the last five years.

Inez Brown says:

“It is really important that the public understand that there is no middle way.  The law must be obeyed regardless of whether you agree with it or not. The law is absolute and must not be broken”.

She continued: “There are many reasons for why some people appear to think it is ok to break the law. Public leaks of potential local lockdown measures have created confusion, creating hurdles to jump over when policies are eventually clarified, while the failure to punish those in the public eye who have broken restrictions could have a ripple effect on the public’s views”.

It is up to the entire legal community to come together and work to ensure that the legal system and the rule of law is respected across society. The rule of law is one of the foundations upon which society rests and we must do all in our power to ensure it is protected.”

Birmingham Law Society will be hosting an online panel debate with former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC MP to discuss the survey results and how the legal community can respond. The debate takes place on Friday 11 December at 11am. To register for the event, please visit