A new bill of rights?

Friday see’s the end of the consultation period for our new bill of rights, or as Mr Cameron would have it our bill of rights, as he seems to be unaware of the existing documents which form our constitution (H/T Captain Ranty):

Our rights can be found in the Magna Carta of 1215, 1229, 1297, the Declaration of Arbroath 1320, the Bill of Rights 1688, for Scotland we have the Claim of Right 1689, the Act of Settlement 1701, the Act of Union 1707, the Human Rights Act 1998 and several international and European Acts also provide some protection.

Given that our Parliament as currently formed can not bind successive Parliaments any Bill of rights they come up with won’t be worth much, unlike our existing bill of rights

The Devils Kitchen is minded that most of these charters have been eroded to next to nothing already, though many would argue that this isn’t possible we’ve just been tricked into thinking they have – and it’s quite within our grasp to reassert them. However his point that a written constitution as would be constructed by our current incumbents would be a terrible thing is one that’s hard to argue with. Given the degree with which they are enamoured with the EU the chances that it’s move us more towards the view that everything not allowed is forbidden (rather than the current everything not forbidden is allowed) would seem quite likely.

The question I find niggling at the back of my mind with this move to create a new bill of rights happening at the same time as they want to tinker with the Act of settlement and everything that’s tied into. As His Grace observes most people don’t care about this, and playing jenga with the foundations of our Parliament and laws is only likely to cause the whole edifice to come crashing down. Usually I take the view that one shouldn’t attribute to malice what can be explained by ignorance, but the Government have advisor’s, and lawyers and other such that are notionally wise in these matters. Which makes ignorance less likely, though malice is a scarier idea and one that has me reaching or my tin foil hat. In the unlikely event we get asked (they’ve done so well with referenda so far)if we want these ancient laws changed I doubt the significance will be explained, we’ll just awake to find we’ve abandoned hard one rights and removed what scant limits there are on our Government. Our Government seems determined to tug at the threads that hold the land together, and bind their hands however loosely but once they’ve unravelled the Union of this land who’ll stitch it back together? The EU?

There’s still to join in that consultation.

Update My late submission to them below the line:

Dear Sir,

firstly may I apologise for submitting my response to you so late in the day, pressures of work caused me to neglect this.

(1) do you think we need a UK Bill of Rights?

To answer this question, my simple response is “no”, I say this for two reasons. Firstly contrary to your document we do have a bill of rights albeit not contained within a single document, further as charters such as “Magna Carter” predate Parliament and give it’s legitimacy they can not be over ruled by Parliament, likewise the Act of Union can not be modified without the countries that were signatory to it renegotiating it – the fundamental building blocks of the country can not be changed with a stroke of the pen without unmaking the country and removing the legitimacy of the very parliament that would change them. Secondly as you state:
“The principle of Parliamentary sovereignty also means that Parliament cannot limit the power of a future Parliament to amend or repeal legislation.”
This would also apply to any modern bill of rights as no mechanism exists to bind future Parliaments, thus any created bill would no more provide special protection or rights than currently exist as any future parliament could change or repeal them – such a bill of rights would therefore not be worth the paper it was written on as it proposes to only encapsulate existing rights.

I would also be interested to know why the consultation document didn’t ennumerate the body of common law and early charters which give us many of our rights today, when such detail was paid to more modern treaties?

That said I would like to add:

(2) what do you think a UK Bill of Rights should contain?

If it must contain anything then surely nothing more than a restatement of the validity of our existing rights under: Magna Carta of 1215, 1229, 1297, the Declaration of Arbroath 1320, the Bill of Rights 1688, the Claim of Right 1689, the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Act of Union 1707.

(3) how do you think it should apply to the UK as a whole, including its four component countries of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales?

Surely the Act of Union means that any bill of rights must apply equally to the entirety of the united Kingdom?

(4) having regard to our terms of reference, are there any other views which you would like to put forward at this stage?

Within your terms of reference a new bill of rights would seem to be fundamentally both hostile to our existing rights, and also a mere restating of existing legislature with equal danger of repeal that existing law has and thus fundamentally a waste of parliamentary time.


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