The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and United Kingdom Law

By David Harris; Sarah Joseph | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

Many criticisms may be made of the way the United Kingdom constitution and electoral system concentrate power in the hands of the central government, dominated by a political majority with dubious popular legitimacy. However, it seems likely that most substantive deficiencies in the United Kingdom system nevertheless conform with Article 25 of the Covenant, which may be more concerned with procedural than substantive compliance. For example, no minimum level of decentralized local- government power is prescribed. Furthermore, one could not term the British system 'undemocratic'; most citizens are free to vote for a wide range of parties or independent candidates in national and local elections. The British system is not unique in rendering many of those votes and candidates ineffectual. However, in comparison with many other western democratic countries, its FPTP electoral system decreases the number of feasible governing parties, thus decreasing the available number of agendas for the voter to choose from, and increases the number of ineffective votes and perhaps, consequently, disillusioned voters. Available evidence nonetheless suggests that the FPTP voting system complies with Article 25.

It seems that United Kingdom law and practice only breach Article 25 in discrete areas, such as the imposition of certain restrictions on the right to vote (e.g. those applied to prisoners, practical difficulties for the homeless) and restrictions on access to certain public-service jobs (e.g. dismissal of homosexuals from the army, restrictions on access to HM Diplomatic Service, unequal access to the House of Lords). Nevertheless, it seems that certain reforms are needed to grant a more worthwhile right of political participation in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the Article 25 guarantee could possibly evolve beyond its present apparent limitations. Its exact meaning has been only partially illuminated by the Committee. Development of a more substantial right of political participation may ensue, especially now that its interpretation is less constrained by ideological interpretive differences at the super-power level. Even the European Convention's weak jurisprudence, which grants a wide margin of appreciation to states parties under its correlative guarantee, opens the door for more stringent applications of this right: 'any electoral system must be assessed in the light of the political evolution of the country concerned: features that would be unacceptable in the context of one system may accordingly be justified in the context of another'.238 Perhaps it is also true that features that were once acceptable may become

____________________
238
Matthieu-Mohin v. Belgium, n. 20 above, para. 54.

-560-

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