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"The Human Rights Act For Ever Changes The Nature Of British Society, Marking A Major Turning Point In British Constitutional History." Discuss

2358 words - 9 pages

Public Law Essay.October 2001 saw the full implementation of The Human Rights Act 1998. Its effect was to incorporate the European Convention of Human rights into domestic law. This means that British Citizens can now rely upon Convention Rights in British courts and will not have to 'take the long slow road to the Court in Strasbourg'. A civilised society can only exist when the citizens of the State know their rights, respect their rights and fulfil their own obligations to society. It therefore, follows that knowledge of Human Rights and dignity is the very basics of a civilised and democratic state. To some the Act marks 'a fundamental constitutional change…' which represents a strong step forward in Britain establishing a quasi-Bill of Rights 'introducing new values and an altered frame of reference to UK public Law'. To others however, the Act is simply a 'British statute having in principle no different status from that of any other statute' and whose effects, can not be considered so 'far-reaching.' This essay will seek to identify the effects that the Act will have on both our constitution and our lives as British citizens.Ostensibly, the Human Rights Act 1998 purports to confer upon British citizens 'rights'. It would seem appropriate therefore, if first, we explore exactly what is meant by the word 'rights' and determine whether in fact such a conferral changes anything at all.Great Britain, almost uniquely amongst democratic Western states, has no comprehensive Bill of Rights. Instead 'rights' are to be adduced as the sum total of, liberty - less State imposed restriction. In other words 'every citizen has a right to do what he likes, unless restrained by the common law or statute.' Rights existing in such a way are commonly referred to as 'liberties'. Appraisal of these liberties proves somewhat illusive under a common law jurisdiction, in the sense that to do so, one must first trawl through almost every piece of legislation and case law to date. This is an unacceptable proposition considering that 'rights are standardly justified on the grounds that they reinforce citizenship.' Correlatively, to keep citizens in the dark about their rights is to keep them in the dark about their citizenship. Furthermore, if '[t]he protection of individual rights and freedoms by the State is an essential feature of the rule of law,' surely, of even greater importance, is prior knowledge of those 'rights'?While to some, the incorporeal existence of liberties is advantageous (largely due to the flexibility it offers), to others it is deemed wholly inconsistent with the premise of responsible and accountable democracy. Sir John Laws for example comments that the result of Parliamentary Sovereignty, combined with this 'negative rights' approach, is that the citizen is afforded no protection against 'lawless and violent abuses of power by an overwhelming State'. Nor are they protected against the more subtle, incremental erosion of rights as...

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