The Writing of Human Rights: Government, Parliament and the Courts Must Be Collectively Responsible

By Puddephatt, Andrew | New Statesman (1996), July 18, 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Writing of Human Rights: Government, Parliament and the Courts Must Be Collectively Responsible


Puddephatt, Andrew, New Statesman (1996)


The government will shortly set out its plans to incorporate the European Convention of Human Rights into British law. Very few moments are truly historic. This one is. For the first time, our fundamental rights will be written down in a way that can be easily understood and will be enforceable through the courts.

Yet an important issue is still to be resolved: the mechanism by which the ECHR will be incorporated. Inevitably many lawyers with their own vested interests are starting to argue that for a bill of rights to have meaning the courts must be given the power to strike down laws. This power is the equivalent of that granted to Canadian courts under their Charter of Rights, known as the "Canadian model". Other models competing in this incorporation beauty contest are those that apply in Sweden and, more particularly, New Zealand. In both these countries, where there is a clear parliamentary role in monitoring legislation, the system is derided as weak or ineffective by the lawyers' lobby.

And what of the government? The Lord Chancellor, Deny Irvine, says he has an open mind. In this case, I believe he is right to be cautious. The government is contemplating a unique, innovative and radical approach to protecting our rights: the development of a "British" model. How extraordinary, then, that some commentators have misinterpreted this as acting conservatively.

What is even more extraordinary is that suddenly so many lawyers are claiming only judges can be entrusted to protect basic rights. For example, judges in the Irish Supreme Court sought to restrict the right to travel of a young girl seeking an abortion, and further sought to restrict the rights of people to receive information about abortion. Elected representatives in the Dail, swayed by public opposition to the decision, called a referendum that changed the constitution.

All human rights questions are complex. They involve fine judgements and moral stands. What right of privacy should paedophiles have when balanced against the need to protect children? What right should tobacco companies have to promote their products when balanced against the need to protect public health? Who is to decide where this balance lies? These decisions are too important to be left to one centre of power. And I don't believe anyone is fooled by the argument that we have only two options - to leave things as they are or to hand the power over to unelected judges - when judges in Britain have such a poor record of protecting individual rights.

If the Labour Party is intent on wider democratic renewal it will want the protection of fundamental rights to invigorate a wider democratic agenda rather than cramp it.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Writing of Human Rights: Government, Parliament and the Courts Must Be Collectively Responsible
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?