One of the key requirements of the rule of law is that judges should decide cases objectively - without fear or favour. This can take courage, especially when the issues involved are sensitive and likely to arouse strong emotions. The ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court this week on the security barrier in the West Bank is a striking example of the principle being put into action. The judgment was fair, humane and somewhat unexpected. It does credit to the Israeli legal system. This was the first high-level legal ruling on the status of the controversial barrier, which is planned to stretch for more than 600km. And it has set an important precedent. The court ruled that a 40km section near Jerusalem must take a different route. At the heart of the judgment lay humanitarian concerns for the plight of the many Palestinians who would find themselves trapped in small enclaves by the snaking path of the barrier. They faced a fate similar to that endured by those hemmed in by portions of the barrier that have already been built. Children have been cut off from their schools and farmers from their land. Communities have been separated from population centres and hospitals. The barrier - a line of fences, trenches and razor wire - has had a harsh impact upon their lives. It has rightly been condemned by many people elsewhere. The court, however, was faced with arguments from the Israeli government which - given justified concerns about terrorist attacks - it could not afford to take lightly. Israel argues that the barrier is essential if its citizens are to be protected from shootings and suicide bombings that have claimed hundreds of lives since 2001. It comes as no surprise, then, that the court upheld the legality of the barrier. But it was not prepared to let matters rest there. The judges went on to consider whether the right balance had been struck between security concerns and the protection of human rights. And they concluded that it had not. The ruling has already had significant repercussions. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pledged to honour the judgment. He has good reason to do so. The court decision is likely to prompt further cases. The government has wisely ordered the army to review the route of the sections yet to be built. A sensible outcome would be to move the barrier back to the so-called 'green line' so that it does not reach into West Bank territory. This, as some senior army personnel have suggested, would probably improve the security situation by reducing tension and minimising the impact on people's lives. The barrier has already caused great hardship. But at least this courageous judgment by the Israeli court will give some hope to those in its path.