Letter: Solitary stand against rights law

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Sir: John Griffith sounds a warning (Letters, 8 March) about the danger of entrusting our rights to the protection of the judiciary. As Professor Griffith well knows, this is an argument for fundamental judicial reform, not against effective rights legislation. Enforcement of rights through the European Court of Human Rights in any event involves hearings before European judges - does Professor Griffith suggest we withdraw the right of British subjects to petition the European Court of Human Rights, or is it only British judges that he so distrusts?

Judicial interpretation of rights exists now, but it is interpretation based upon inaccessible and unchallengeable criteria. If we have rights in this country there is no reason why they should not be written down. Experience of the last 14 years has shown how an unrestricted executive with a dependent Parliament can effectively subvert the rights of British subjects at will.

The protection available from codification of our rights will not be based purely on the whim of the judiciary, however. 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 to the present - where the British public are granted vague privileges, not real rights, with no notion as to how they might be protected.

When the Conservatives incorporated the United Nations Covenant on Political and Civil Rights into Hong Kong law it left Britain as the only country in Europe or the Democratic Commonwealth without domestically enforceable civil and political rights. Britain is the only country that continues to believe that rather than make judicial power accountable, it is better to have no legal protection for rights at all.

Continued reliance on the European Court as the final guarantor of our rights restricts effective enforcement of individual rights to those with plenty of time, as well as substantial organisational and financial resources. It creates what amounts to a two-tier system of rights in this country. Just as this is unacceptable for our health services, so should it be for our civil and political rights.

All who take this issue seriously are in the debt of Professor Griffith for his pioneering work on the nature of the British judiciary; however, the questions he posed then are now being answered.

Yours etc,


MP for Nottingham North (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

8 March

The writer is Opposition spokesman on democracy and the constitution.