Letter: A Bill to protect UK human rights

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Sir: The discussion in recent weeks on the state of British justice, the inadequacy of our political institutions, and even the standing of Britain as a democracy, underlines the need for a new constitutional settlement in which the rights of the individual must be made clear. This week, in which Amnesty International is launching a major new human rights campaign, I will be presenting a Bill for the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law.

This is a policy position overwhelmingly endorsed by the Labour Party conference in Brighton and backed by the Labour leader, John Smith. It is gathering the support of many people regardless of party allegiance.

Incorporation would have one major advantage. It would expedite the processes of justice for those British citizens seeking redress for past or existing human rights violations. At present, a judgment from the European Court in Strasbourg can take upwards of five years. The recent decision to streamline the working of the European Court - while welcome - will not solve this problem of protracted adjudication, given the current backlog of cases (amounting to some 2,500 applications), and the expectation of increased demands from Eastern and Central Europe following enlargement of the Council of Europe.

Under existing arrangements the time delay and expense of the Strasbourg process is a powerful deterrent to those seeking justice. Without external support from concerned individuals or pressure groups, only those with the backing of substantial private resources can make use of the facility of individual petition. This amounts to a two-tier system of rights in this country.

Incorporation would make available a simple domestic remedy in British courts - accessible to all whose human rights have been infringed. To that extent it would be an important, if modest, first step towards the modernisation of the British system of justice.

Yours sincerely,


MP for Nottingham North (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

18 October

The writer is shadow minister for democracy and the constitution.