Sunday 10 August 2008

Human Rights: UK exceptionalism

The Joint Committee on Human Rights of the House of Lords and the House of Commons has published a report called ’A Bill of Rights for the UK? Twenty-ninth Report of Session 2007–08’ (HL Paper 165-I, HC 150-I; published 10 August 2008):

The report outlines a future UK Bill of Rights.


Browsing the report, you would have to be a genius to detect that the United Kingdom is a member state of the European Union, or that its government has politically signed up to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 7 December 2000, or that the United Kingdom has ratified the Treaty of Lisbon, or taken the trouble to opt out of the Charter, as adapted on 12 December 2007.

I have no desire to deprive UK residents of modern human rights protection, but even by British standards the presentation seems to reach new heights of tunnel vision.

Ralf Grahn


  1. The EU is a basketcase.

    By acting as if a superpower dictating to countries like Serbia and Ireland that they must bow to Brussels, they have instead allowed Russia to humiliate both themselves and America.

    Britain is lost in the EU quagmire, and instead of keeping a clear head and ensuring Bush didn't make so many errors in his dealings with Russia, we've allowed ourselves to be the EU's primary diplomatic channel in Serbia/Kosovo and created a hopelss and chaotic situation.

    A situation which is none of our business and should be no business of the EU's either.

    Britain should burn her EU membership as soon as possible and get back to organising her own government and constitution and bill of rights.

    The EU is a hopeless and dangerous waste of Britain's time.

    The world needs Britain's free voice to come back, to prevent any more dangerous diplomatic messes EU-style like Kosovo. America needs a free Britain too. Right now Britain's government is lost in EU chaos and havoc. Thank God the British Parliamentary system still has a few voices left which are not caught up in EU corruption and control. There's hope.

  2. Yes, one day King Richard will come back from the Holy Land...

  3. Tapestry,

    The feat of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to discuss human rights in the United Kingdom on 130 odd pages, with - if I saw correctly - only one passing mention of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, was remarkable in its artificiality.

    Your comment exceeds even that.

    Perhaps other readers would care to comment on the subject at hand.

  4. Ralf,

    You've articulated one of things I find most perplexing about UK politics - how it's possible for politicians to be popular by looking like they are denying citizens human rights.

    Look at all the mess Brown found himself in about the right to strike in the Charter of Fundamental Rights!

    How we've reached this absurd position is beyond me.

  5. Jon,

    I am probably as perplexed as you are.

    As an outsider I can only wonder at the difficulty of many to think of themselves in active terms like 'citizen' or 'citizenship', and at their inclination to define themselves as 'subjects', purportedly enjoying superior liberties under common law (including centuries old documents, groundbreaking in their time).

    Popular myths may be understandable, although regrettable, but when the expert Committee of both Houses of Parliament treats human rights in a manner as artificial as the fresh report on a UK Bill of Rights, one can only wonder.

    Almost anywhere else the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights - the most comprehensive and modern human rights document to my knowledge - would have served as the reference document, especially for an EU member state.

    Given the UK opt-out from the Charter, the reasons would have been discussed in detail, with the planned differences given special attention.

    Since the UK political establishment seems happy with its feat of tunnel vision, independent researchers and NGOs are probably the only hope for critical assessments and a modicum of perspective.

    Perhaps Statewatch will take a closer look.

  6. Hello Ralf,

    Tapestry is obviously, like normal, spouting a lot of claptrap, but that is to be expected...

    Jon has a very good point. It is quite amazing—at least rationally—how talk of human rights in the United Kingdom often receives shrugs or even disgust. But I think there is a historical issue here, relating to British constitutional government: Even though I am a pro-European, and obviously support human rights, I myself find it rather strange when people begin to lecture me on the need for some form of written constitution or bill of rights.

    Given that Britain has an extremely long history of democratic government as the first modern parliamentary state, I do not feel that my rights as a British citizen are endangered by the British government. Perhaps that is naive. But I can see more disturbing things over the horizon to worry about, like those I deal with on my blog.

    I think many British people feel similarly: they simply do not feel that their rights are in jeopardy, due to the extensive democratic culture of the British nation, and the national story they are told and believe, etc.

    I hope that makes sense.

    Best wishes,

  7. The above comments are quite revealing the widespread attitude:
    How dare theese continentals to lecture us about human rights, when we Brits invented the basic notion?
    Some less polite commentator would have probably added something about the heirs of Torquemada, Robespierre, Hitler and Mussolini not being the best candidates to set human rights standards.

    As for the
    Even in a field where the British political class could take the lead in Europe, it prefers to do what it can to distance and insulate itself from the rest of the Eu.

  8. Is it not odd to be having an argument in this manner about the topic of human rights?

    The issue for the UK and Ireland has always been whether or not it was necessary for both the EU and the Council of Europe, through the European Court of Human Rights, to have competing, and possibly overlapping, roles. This question has never been properly addressed.

    The Charter of Fundamental Rights also raised various difficult issues in relation to social and economic rights which became enmeshed in the ideological debate at a a European level.

    It is hardly surprising that the House of Lords took the approach that it did. It does not provide justification for a supposed superior position in the matter of human rights on anybody's part. And the fact is that the UK has the oldest historical tradition of the defence of human rights of any modern democracy. The citizens of the UK are entitled to be proud of this.

    By the way, Ralf, when can we have a post on the subject of the Aland Islands and the ungovernable nature of Finland?

  9. James,

    Your comment (view) makes sense, in a way, although I would prefer rational discussion in a European context.

  10. Igor,

    One of the advantages of the European Union is that the intensive contacts between representatives of different governments make it the world's largest learning organisation, provided that the participants are prepared to learn (not only to teach).

  11. Seachtu,

    I would have expected the Joint Committee to discuss the questions of human rights in a more natural setting today, regardless of past glories.

    Admittedly, I have not described Finland as a whole as ungovernable in my various posts on the Lisbon Treaty in Finland and the coming approval or rejection by the Åland Islands, since the province decides on its own and with regard to its own territory (not Finland as a whole or the rest of the EU; the procedure is parliamentary, not plebiscite).

    But, I have indicated that Åland would enter uncharted waters by rejecting the Lisbon Treaty (if it enters into force).

    If my workload permits, I am going to follow the story when there are things to report.

  12. Ralf. Your comments about Ireland being ungovernable were misplaced and unjustified. Laying the blame on Aland is equally unworthy. Be a man. Retract.

  13. Seachtu,

    This discussion has very little to do with British human rights exceptionalism, but I still find the description of Ireland as 'ungovernable' apt in the context of EU treaty change.

    Ireland's government may sign up to an amending treaty, the parliament may be in favour of it, but the electors habitually make a mockery out of these intentions (at least the first time around).

    Instead of retracting, I am waiting for you to offer a more telling description.

  14. The point is a simple one: both Ireland and Finland are functioning democracies and the people decide. Your position leads inevitably to the famous quote from Brecht that "the people had disappointed the government, so it was time to change the people".

  15. Seachtu,

    Nothing of the kind. It only means that the Irish government and parliament are not in charge concerning EU treaty change, thus without authority to govern in these matters, habitually disqualified by the Irish voters.

    Nobody is going to change (replace) the Irish population, which lives (happily?) on with the consequences of one of the primary rules of democracy:

    The people live with their own decisions and/or the ones of their elected representatives.

    As do others.

  16. What you are saying then is that there is something wrong with the Irish system of governance in the matter of ratification of treaties, and possibly the Finnish, rather than with the Irish people; or the Finnish for that matter, even if they happen to be Swedish speaking and live in Aland.

    I agree with you, at least as far as Ireland is concerned.

  17. Finland, let Aland live!

    Indeed, Finnish imperialists oppressing Aland shouldn't feel so confortable lecturing about human rights. Let's organize sit-ins in front of embassies, mobile phone stores ecc.

  18. Igor,

    Before you get carried away, have San Marino and the Vatican had their own referendums or procedures for approval?

    A bit more seriously, the Åland Protocol grants the islands interesting privileges, some of which actually go against the basic tenets of non-discrimination and the internal market, and internally the Åland Islands have a voice in Finnish EU affairs at every level (although they lobby for a direct relationship with the EU almost as if they were a member state).

    The Finnish Minister of European Affairs seems to have prepared some additional concessions to Åland, but as far as I know, final decisions have not been taken by Finland or Åland.

  19. I fear that Mr.Grahn may have spotted a lack of serious involvement and commitment in my support of the Aland cause.

    In considering the Italian peninsula, we should also mention the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which, in my opinion, could particularly fit well in the new Mediterranean Union.

    Anyway, both San Marino and Vatican City State are outside the power of the unelected ECJ. Italy has no responsibility for either, the former being an independent country, while the latter a non self-governing territory represented by the Holy See (pretty much like the state called Italian Republic).

  20. No new written constitution, including a new Bill of Rights can be entrenched or dislodge Magna Carta and the Declaration and Bill of Rights 1688/1689. The Government's own Research Paper (96/82 dated 18th July 1996-available direct from Parliament, page 36) makes that clear. A snippet here for you

    "Again, the theory of sovereignty means that no Parliament can bind its successors, and this inability of Parliament to prevent any law from being later altered or repealed by a Parliament means that, in principle, no scheme of constitutional change-Bill of Rights, devolution, even, perhaps a written constitution itself* - can be entrenched - made secure against any or easy amendment or repeal-in the legal order. The recent
    schemes by proponents of Scottish devolution and some form of a Bill of Rights demonstrate how difficult (perhaps impossible) it is to reconcile formal, legal entrenchment (as opposed to 'political-moral' entrenchment) with conventional sovereignty".

    Certain members of Government seem to have great difficulty in accepting that they cannot just do as they like. That the term, “no parliament can bind its successors” applies to legislation that Parliament instigated. Anything that Parliament has done, can be undone. However, they should hold in mind that in unravelling one Document (maybe like the Act of Union) can also have an effect on the Act of Settlement which in turn may affect the whole of the Commonwealth.

    It does not matter really what is in those NEW rights because they can be repealed when the next Government comes in or overridden straight away by the EU. However, where our long standing constitution is concerned, if destroyed (because the people are to have a referendum on this Bill of Rights) has certain consequences, perhaps particularly so by MP’s that have so recently made that Oath, for all of us here in the UK who are British citizens bear allegiance to the Crown and through the Crown, to our Country. For quite simply, ‘according to R v Thistlewood 1820, to destroy the Constitution is ‘an act of treason’.

  21. I don't wish to detract from Anne's comments, but you said:

    Since the UK political establishment seems happy with its feat of tunnel vision,

    And that is the way it acts. It pretends that it has not handed over the majority of its power to the EU, through Competencies, and carries on as if it has the power to implement those things for which it no longer has authority. We saw something very similar in the equally myopic Green paper "The Governance of Britain" Jul 2007. But then our current government has been practicing deception for so long that it is now even deceiving itself.

  22. I find myself totally confused in that we have so many charters of rights and fundamental freedoms. The convention for the Protection of Human Rights was a post-war document drawn up as a guide as to how all European countries should behave after the devastation of the war years. It should not impose itself onto a sovereign country with its own well-proven charter (Magna Carta)

    The problem comes when an organisation such as the EU, which is a corporatist lobby led institution, tries to include what is a noble document. For instance, a lot has been made in the Irish referendum of the provision, however unintentional, to kill people trying to evade capture or rioting.

    ----- Article 2(2) of the ECHR:

    ‘Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this Article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:
    · in defence of any person from lawful violence;

    · in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;

    · in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.’

    We in Britain are only too aware of the increasing power of the state; fingerprinting, eye scanning, DNA databases, ID cards and the proposed 42-day detention. The new kid on the block is that we now have an area under the European Arrest Warrant for the trial and conviction of British subjects without them even being present at the trial in a foreign land. All of these things are contradictory to our Habeas Corpus and make us criminals and not free and un-hindered people.

    Magna Carta and our original Bill of Rights were not made to be interfered with and would theoretically protect us from a Stalin or Hitler. If the complete integration of the UK into an EU super-state were ever achieved and our submission to a new bill of rights was to over-ride Magna Carta we would find ourselves prey to the interpretation of such clauses as shown above.

  23. Well, I would find it appropriate if (even) the elected representatives in the UK were prepared to discuss the merits of human rights protection in a contemporaty European context.


Due deluge of spam comments no more comments are accepted.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.