Spectres of Coke: Judicial supervision as a revolutionary inheritance

25 Jun 2012

Sir Edward Coke is known for having played a central role in establishing the power of the common law courts to exercise a supervisory jurisdiction over the executive/administration. Coke is usually praised in the literature for his boldness in doing this, whilst he is at the same time censured for having dared to suggest that this jurisdiction should be a very wide one. This essay questions the inheritance of judicial supervision and enquires whether there may be a secret to uncover in Coke’s texts. Referring to Coke’s Institutes, it is suggested that the wide jurisdiction of the common law courts that Coke advanced, is linked to and should be understood in light of Coke’s pronouncements in the epigrams on law and justice. Judicial supervision, according to this reading of Coke, involves not only a necessarily limited jurisdiction in accordance with law, but also the desire for an unlimited jurisdiction, which corresponds with Derrida’s analysis of justice and law. This reading of Coke, it is suggested, calls on us to view judicial supervision as revolutionary in nature which requires of the courts to fundamentally rethink the way in which they exercise their supervisory function.