Off the Record: The Rule of Law, Chilean miners, and lawyers

By Roberta M. Gubbins
Legal News

While the world watched, thirty-three Chilean miners, trapped one half mile under the Atacama desert for 69 days, were raised from the depths of the earth, coming up into a world that, for them, will never be the same. Their lives have been changed forever.

Some of the changes were physical, a result of living in a dark, 600 square foot, hot, humid environment. Doctors can diagnose and repair the medical problems.

Other changes were psychological. Minors who suffered anxiety attacks or depression or fear while in the mine or in the narrow capsule that brought them to the surface will need help dealing with the repercussions of those ordeals.

As one miner found when his wife and his mistress met at the mine head, relationships with family and friends will be different.

Psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers will work on those issues.

The miners did not specifically request the medical or social advisors. The government and their employer the mining company provided them. Who did they request to assist them?

They asked for a lawyer.

They were aware that there would be numerous lucrative media deals offered. They knew that fame and fortune could come their way. They talked about writing a book, or maybe there would be a movie. The possibilities were endless.

The miners wanted to control those possibilities as best they could. They asked a lawyer to draw up an agreement and send it down for all to sign. They wanted the agreement to state that all would profit equally from any deals made. And they also agreed that some things should not be told.

The miners made the agreement because they have faith that the courts of their country will uphold the contract if arguments ensue. They may not know the words but what they believe in is the Rule of Law.

The meaning of the Rule of Law can be elusive but is usually defined as a legal-political regime under which the law restrains the government by promoting certain liberties and creating order and predictability regarding how a country functions. 

Belief in the Rule of Law is what allows businesses to make plans and move forward. It is what allows individuals to marry, to make contracts, to acquire loans to buy houses and cars knowing those acts will be upheld by an impartial and independent court of law, and it is that belief that will preserve the intentions of the miners.

Faith in the Rule of Law is what keeps lawyers coming to work everyday—they know the documents they draft, the arguments they make in court and the advice they give their clients is based on published set of laws.

They know that those laws can not be changed at the whim of a judge, by a telephone call from a prominent politician, or by the payment of money but only by a legislature after due consideration.

The Chilean miners and their lawyers may not know of worlds where rules are non-existent or not respected. Such worlds do exist, but not in Chile and not here. We can be thankful for that.