A quote from Rudyard Kipling celebrating the common law greeted the new lord chief justice, Sir Ian Burnett, on his swearing in this morning. In his formal speech welcoming the appointment, lord chancellor David Lidington cited the phrase: 'Ancient right unnoticed as the breath we draw; Leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the law.' 

The quote is from an 1899 poem The Old Issue, a patriotic assertion that English monarchs must abide by the law, a theme revived in Kipling's better known The Reeds of Runnymede.

For Lidington, the quote emphasised his promise to defend judicial independence, in implicit contrast to recent predecessors. The new lord chief is 'no stranger to challenging authority – and this is just as it should be', Lidington said, referring to the role of 'fearsomely independent judges' in upholding the rule of law. 

Lidington's emphasis on the common law - which 'forms laws from the lives of men and women rather than directing them to live under forms of law' - was a reminder of the overarching Brexit agenda. 'Our law is a breathing, living entity that throughout history has offered 'a measured, thoughtful and certain response to changing circumstances, and will I am sure do so countless times again,' he said.

He concluded: 'On occasion, in the coming months and years, there will doubtless be some uncomfortable discussions between the 21st century judiciary and the executive. And that, too, is as it should be – with discord then giving way to discussion and finally to harmony.'