Sumption is becoming one of the dominant personalities of the age. One suspects that, had he lived 50 years earlier, he would have been interviewed on John Freeman’s Face to Face. Sumption has recently become a visiting fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, to complete his monumental history. Once he has dealt with the medieval conflict between England and France, it may be hoped that he will find time to convert this book into a fully argued thesis that confronts the challenges that have been made to it. In doing so he may finally turn into that most European of figures, the public intellectual.
In print, he writes that relations between government and citizen are governed by ‘an elaborate system of administrative law, largely developed by judges since the 1960s’. When delivered, this phrase was ‘largely created by the judges since the 1960s’, a historical solecism which echoed his previous critique of the judiciary, for there is in reality little in the principles of modern public law (the body of law governing the functioning of the state and its relations with individuals, still obstinately referred to in Oxford as administrative law) which was not already there by the 19th century. What has changed is the polity to which they are applied.