After thirteen years of setting up and running schools in Indonesia, my life and those of my young family were turned upside down. We were hit very hard by the criminal and corrupt in the Indonesian legal system. So that my successful schools, my home, my funds for my children's education, all my personal possessions and much else could be taken from me, I was jailed for months and then deported. Effectively, two of my children were abducted from me. Within years of this violation and grand-scale theft, the perpetrators had squandered and lost everything I had built up. It made me ask myself: If the corrupt could do this to an educated Westerner with resources, what chance does the ordinary Indonesian stand, and what are the retarding consequences of this for society?
Law and justice are in my blood from my mother's side, so, on returning to Britain I decided to fall back on my legal training as a young man, and set up OpenTrial to combat such heinous and destructive legal system dysfunction that is prevalent in and blights much of the developing world. As this site explains, with the advent of the interactivity of internet there is tremendous potential to combat legal system dysfunction through transparency, accountability and the legal empowerment of society.
Encouragingly, Norfolk, the county of my birth, is also the county in which two men who were pivotal to the advancement of justice in the world were born. The first is the English jurist and parliamentarian Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), who searched for fundamental principles that undergirded all good law and insisted on due process that enabled people to see the law as a rational, orderly system in which they could have confidence. "Reason," he said, "is the life of the law; nay, the common law itself is nothing else but reason… The law, which is perfection of reason." The second is the political philosopher and writer Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who advocated the natural equality of individuals and the protection of their rights: “A Declaration of rights is, by reciprocity, a Declaration of Duties also. Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.” Radically for the time, he also proposed that government should take on the economic support of all citizens when they are at their most vulnerable, especially the young, the elderly and the infirm.
“[F]our billion people around the world are robbed of the chance to better their lives and climb out of poverty, because they are excluded from the rule of law.” the United Nations’ Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor.