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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Coalition watch

Coalition watch

According to the Coalition Agreement: “We will establish a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties”.

According to the Cabinet Office website: On Monday 20 December 2010: “The Government has confirmed proposals for prisoner voting…Legislation will be brought forward next year for Parliament to debate”.

There is the Bill of Rights 1688/9, and the Human Rights Act 1998 (which has incorporated much of the European Convention on Human Rights), so is there really any need to set up a Commission? Kenneth Clarke in 2006 dismissed the idea of a British Bill of Rights as xenophobic nonsense. He was responding to The Sun report: “David Cameron last night vowed he was ready to scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act to protect millions of citizens”.

There is something disturbing about someone seeking power and intent on removing human rights from the electorate. Luckily, the electorate chose not to give the Tories absolute power and voted instead for a coalition. The LibDems are to provide a check upon abuse of power.

The Labour administration was in power when the Human Rights Act 1998 was passed by Parliament. But it is disingenuous to label it as “Labour’s Human Rights Act”. Instead of a British Bill of Rights, perhaps we should have a Conservative Bill of Rights? Then when Labour gets into power again they can scrap it for a Labour Bill of Rights. The Human Rights Act belongs to the country and not any political party. It does not appear as though David Cameron has thought this out before issuing his off the cuff remark, which appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to a court decision. There is also the xenophobic anti-European Convention and anti-European Court. Surely, it calls into question David Cameron’s ability to be Prime Minister of the country? It does appear as though he is suffering from some form of instability.

In any event, it is not clear what is meant by “that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties”. Does it mean incorporate the European Convention into the Bill of Rights? If this is the case, doesn’t the HRA already serve this purpose? As for the UK’s obligations under the Convention, these are already written into the Treaty of London 1949 (Statute of the Council of Europe). There is a case for strengthening the HRA, for example, Articles 1 and 13 of the Convention should be incorporated. And, s.6 can be reworded so as to leave the Secretary of State for Justice in no doubt about his responsibilities to ensure all citizens get their human rights under the Convention and that the UK abides by the Court’s decisions. There is also a case for a written constitution.

It would appear that Hirst v UK (No2), the Prisoners Votes Case, is one of the factors causing concern for the coalition. This is surprising given that the coalition speaks of obligations to the Convention.

There is a need for constitutional reform. The commission can further that issue. However, it has to be said that if the UK wishes to play a part in Europe then it means sacrificing a part of sovereignty. The UK needs to reflect upon the fact that prisoners have taken the high moral ground in relation to the franchise, whereas Parliament has only got the low moral ground in relation to fiddled expenses

1 comment:

IanPJ said...


A well written piece.. however..

I still maintain that this latest move by Cameron is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, the latest attempt to flatten UK Common Law in favour of EU Corpus Juris.

If your only motive for remaining in the EU is the protection that the ECJ and the ECHR provides, I would suggest that to protect our heritage, our common law could provide much better outcomes for prisoners.

A Commission should look at prison reform under Common Law rather than a communitarian Bill of Rights based upon Corpus Juris entitlements.