Letter: Constitutional innovation

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Sir: In the wake of John Smith's address to Charter 88 on constitutional reform, it is worth noting that many of the issues being discussed (or, in the case of Labour, pending the final Plant Report, avoided) such as proportional representation, have been tried in Northern Ireland.

I have been sceptical of pinning excessive hopes on the idea of a domestic Bill of Rights and it is certainly necessary for those who support it to spell out the ways in which judicial appointments and court procedures would have to change so as to balance the greater power given to judges. That said, and now as a member of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR), I would like to point out to those who might not be following developments in Northern Ireland that SACHR has recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of its Plant (not the same one) Report calling for a Bill of Rights by reiterating that demand at least for Northern Ireland.

While reformers based in Great Britain might feel they have the momentum to push for reform throughout the United Kingdom, one question they might like to put to a reluctant government is to ask whether there are any insurmountable objections to, say, incorporation of the European Convention into the legal system of Northern Ireland. Instead of using Northern Ireland as a constitutional laboratory to road-test such developments as modifications to the right to silence, this could be the opportunity to test a more positive innovation.

It could then be examined alongside such features as our local elections under proportional representation or next year's European elections, which are also held under proportional representation in Northern Ireland. This would have the side-benefit of encouraging Labour, Charter 88 and the Independent to look (north) westwards for inspiration. While looking in this direction, you might also note that SACHR itself could serve as a model for the Human Rights Commission which Mr Smith has proposed.



Faculty and School of Law

The Queen's University

of Belfast

2 March