If we have rights in this country, there is no reason why they should not be written down. Judges already make countless judgments affecting our rights, but they are based upon inaccessible and unchallengeable criteria. Incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights (currently interpreted by European, rather than domestic, judges), followed by eventual enactment of a British Bill of Rights, will give us standards by which the decisions of the judiciary could be measured and the actions of the over-powerful state curtailed.
Fear of the power of judges should be the cause for judicial reform and not the excuse for a paralysed acceptance of the status quo. Experience of the last 14 years shows how an unrestricted Executive, with a dependent Parliament, can be virtually unchecked in subverting the rights of British subjects.
Bills of Rights in themselves do nothing to protect rights - what they do is provide a clear and public framework in which battles over rights can be openly understood and resolved. Thus the protection from codification of our rights will not be based purely on the whim of the judiciary. It will also rest on the basis of every citizen knowing their rights, cherishing them and being willing to enforce and defend them. Compare this with the present - where the British public are granted vague privileges, not real rights, and with no notion as to how they might be protected.
Continued enforced reliance on the European Court as the final guarantor of our rights restricts effective enforcement of individual rights to those with time and substantial organisational and financial resources.
It creates what amounts to a two- tier system of rights in this country, and sustains the notion of ordinary civil and human rights being foreign, European things, rather than an essential part of every citizen's life, something I am sure not even Conor Gearty believes.
MP for Nottingham North (Lab)
House of Commons
The writer is Labour frontbench spokesperson on democracy and the constitution.Reuse content