Those of you who read this blog frequently will by now know, unless you don’t really pay that much attention or are actually blind, that I write a lot on the subject of Human Rights and Civil Liberties and in particular their importance and what more we can do in this area. Well, this post sees a return to what is probably my most frequently written about topic. It is also a return to a specific part of the large subject of Human Rights that I’ve written about many a time before: A UK Bill of Rights.
I am a big supporter of a more inclusive bill of rights than what we have contained within the Human Rights Act 1998, which only incorporates specific articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental freedoms 1950 (ECHR) into domestic law. I was reading an article that I’d come across on Westlaw entitled “Finally: a Bill of Rights for the UK?” which was written by Steve Foster and published in 2008 in the Coventry Law Journal.
It got me thinking about the issue again and the sheer difficulty we have the United Kingdom when it comes to protecting our basic rights and freedoms. The problems stem from our general constitutional arrangement. Unlike many other nations in Europe and around the world we lack a codified constitution that stipulates exactly how our democracy works. We in the UK have a Parliamentary system in which the doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy dominates our political landscape. In simple terms the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy means that Parliament is at the top of the pile and cannot be bound by anyone or anything (including itself). In a state with a codified constitution, the constitution is at the top of the pile and binds everyone in the nation.
Normally in a country with a constitution the basic rights and freedoms of humans are enshrined (and therefore protected) within the constitution. For example, the Constitution of the United States of America contains a Bill of Rights, which guarantees the rights and freedoms contained within it to anyone on American Soil.
Our constitutional system which places an emphasis on the doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy acts as a cumbersome barrier to any attempt at creating a Bill of Rights in the United Kingdom, simply because it can be altered or even removed at the will of parliament at any point in the future.
The only real solution to this problem would be a complete overhaul of our political system and institutions, which would probably be a much welcomed process. The process however would be long and complicated and involve a serious commitment from all the major parties within the United Kingdom. It would involve a number of referenda and the dissolving of our current political institutions and replacing them with new ones as established by a constitution, which would have to be voted on by the citizens of the United Kingdom. The current system favours our politicians too much and as such they will be unwilling to become subjected to the constraints of a codified constitution. So, realistically the only way to bring about such a wide-spread change of our political system would be for us to have a revolution. This is also unlikely to happen as, while we enjoy complaining about things we are far too apathetic to actually go about changing them. After all, the vast majority of people agree (if the results of the large number of opinion polls on the matter are to be believed) that Human Rights are important, but when their fundamental rights and freedoms are being removed piece by piece few care enough to actually try and stop it from happening.
So in short, while a Bill of Rights would be most welcomed, it is unlikely to change the situation much as it could be changed and even removed on the whim of Parliament at anytime.
I’m such a sad person that I’ve compiled a sample constitution which I think would benefit the UK a lot were it to be implemented. I might, one day, share it with you all on this blog.