New Paper on the Human Rights Act

Repeal of the Human Rights Act, its replacement with a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, and withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights are core parts of the constitutional programme of the newly-elected Conservative government. For this reason, the recently-published Constitution Society and UK Constitutional Law Association paper, “‘Common Sense’ or Confusion? The Human Rights Act and the Conservative Party” by Stephen Dimelow and Alison L Young, available online, is of particular salience.

The enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998 was undoubtedly a significant moment in the United Kingdom’s legal and political history. But while many view it as a positive development, many others view it much more negatively, regularly voicing the need for far reaching reforms. Of the main Westminster parties, unhappiness with it has long been most prominent in the ranks of the Conservative Party. The publication of a policy document in October 2014 entitled ‘Protecting Human Rights in the UK: The Conservatives’ Proposals for Changing Britain’s Human Rights Laws’, was an important step towards understanding both what the Conservative Party believes is wrong with the current regime and how it plans to resolve these perceived problems. This paper scrutinises the Conservative Party’s proposals in an attempt to determine the Conservative Government’s likely success in both achieving the proposed reforms and addressing the perceived problems. 

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28th April 2015

Britain and Europe: Past. Present. Future?

On the 18th of July, the Constitution Society and the European Parliament Office held a panel discussion entitled ‘Britain and Europe: Past. Present. Future?’ with four high-profile speakers: Mary Honeyball MEP, Bill Cash  MP, Dr Andrew Blick and Sarah Ludord MEP. The event looked both at the history of Britain’s relationship with the EU and also the future of our constitutional ties to that union. 

James Hallwood, Associate Director of The Constitution Society, opened the event by explaining that ConSoc is an independent, non-party educational foundation that works to promote informed debate about constitutional reform.  He  went on to explain that the night’s event was part of Young People and the Constitution (YPC). This is an initiative from The Constitution Society that aims to educate the politicians, civil servants and lawmakers of the future in the workings of the British constitution. 

Dr Andrew Blick, lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London, began the discussion, looking at Britain’s historical relationship with the EU. An island state with a long tradition of independence from the mainland, Britain unlike Europe, has a tradition of Common rather than Roman law, and as such parliamentary sovereignty can be hard to reconcile with EU legislation. Dr Blick notes however that the British constitution has seen a degree of ‘Europisation’, in particular holding more referendums as a means of decision making (a decidedly more European tradition). Suggesting that such Europisation may be symptomatic of a lack of confidence in parliamentary sovereignty, Dr Blick concluded by suggesting that parliamentary sovereignty is not, in fact, taken seriously in Britain – not even by Eurosceptics.  Read more ›

Young People and the Constitution – EU event on iPlayer

The latest event in the Young People and the Constitution series was a panel discussion on the topic of the EU and its relationship with the British constitution – held on Thursday 18th July. With the title Britain and Europe: Past. Present. Future? the event looked at the history of Britain’s relationship with the EU and also the future of our constitutional ties to the organisation. 

Chaired by our Associate Director, James Hallwood, with a panel of differing opinions but equally high expertise on the matter, the seminar addressed an audience of young people as well as diplomatic staff and journalists. The session was filmed by the BBC and first broadcast on Saturday 20th July. 

Dr Andrew Blick, Mary Honeyball MEP, Bill Cash MP, and Sarah Ludford MEP completed the panel – each offering 10 minute contributions on their thoughts of Britain’s history and future with the European Union. We are indebted to the European Parliament Information Office for hosting this event. 

The discussion avoided polemic and broad brushstrokes in favour of reasoned argument and a sound knowledge of the constitutional history of this complex relationship. 

An abridged film of the event can be found on iPlayer here

22nd July 2013

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Rt Hon John Bercow MP launches ‘Young People and the Constitution’

The Constitution Society was delighted to host the Speaker of the House of Commons, Rt Hon John Bercow MP, as he spoke to an audience of young people on his role in the British constitution chaired by our Project Manager, James Hallwood.

As patron of YPC, Mr Bercow spoke of the importance of neutrality and some of the changes he has brought to the Commons, as well as several more he would like to implement. 

On the British constitution, Mr Bercow explained that he believed that traditions and practices that work should never be got rid of for the sake of ‘reform’ – but when there is a case for change he supported looking at what could be done. 

The audience put some interesting questions to Mr Bercow. The Speaker’s answers offered what he said was an “honest politician’s views” and that he avoided “sitting on the fence” despite his neutrality. For instance, Mr Bercow voiced support for same-sex marriage, suggested Britain was best placed to remain in the European Union, rejected a call for separation of powers, and advocated the doctrine of Parliamentary Supremacy as remaining potent and relevant.

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Comment: Why we should be cautious about abandoning the European Convention on Human Rights

“Freedom from Strasbourg” has become a popular rallying cry in British Politics. Just last week Theresa May made it a central part of a speech which many feel was intended to position her for a future leadership challenge.We need to stop human rights legislation interfering with our ability to fight crime and control immigration… that’s why the next Conservative Government will scrap the Human Rights Act.” said Mrs May, and why not?

The extended sojourn of Abu Qatada in the U.K. on the basis of Article three of the European Convention on Human rights, has certainly offended those key ‘British’ senses of decency, justice and common sense, and does not Parliament reign Sovereign here?

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Despite the speech a referendum on EU membership seems unlikely

Cameron’s much-delayed and anticipated speech on Britain’s relationship with the rest of the European Union called for a substantial renegotiation of the terms of our membership as well as a repatriation of powers. The renegotiated settlement would then be put to a referendum with the public deciding whether to back his deal or leave the EU completely. 

Many column inches have been devoted to looking at what the terms of renegotiation would be, the likelihood of success, and the internal politics of an increasingly eurosceptic Conservative Party that some claim has led to this move. But while pro and anti European camps prepare to make their cases, the simple fact is that this referendum is unlikely to happen.

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25th January 2013

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The Coalition’s mid-term constitutional plans

It’s been a furiously busy two years of constitutional news: from the AV referendum and failed Lords reform to elected Police Commissioners and fixed-term parliaments. But now with the Coalition reaching mid-point in this parliament what constitutional issues will be raised in the run-up to 2015?

The downgrading of Chloe Smith’s role from that of her predecessor’s indicates that the Coalition will be placing less priority on parliamentary and constitutional reform, but there still remain huge constitutional matters that will be addressed before the end of this parliament.

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11th January 2013

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Fresh battle looms between European human rights court and UK

Prosecutors could be forced to stop using evidence from victims and witnesses who do not attend court in another human rights battle between Britain and Europe. The case is the first significant clash between European judges and the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, over who should dictate domestic law.

Read it at The Telegraph ›

14th December 2011

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ARCHIVE: On whether or not to repeal; a briefing on the debate surrounding the Human Rights Act and a UK Bill of Rights

[First Published on Tuesday 4th October 2011]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

This week, as senior politicians from both sides of the coalition express differences of opinion regarding the future of the 1998 Human Rights Act and the prospect of a new UK Bill of Rights, we present some of the best recent writing on the issue as well as some useful background information.

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ARCHIVE: EU debate leads to significant rebellion

[First Published on Tuesday 25th October 2011]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

A backbench motion debate on Britain’s relationship with the European Union has led to a significant rebellion of government MPs.

The motion, introduced by David Nuttall MP, moved:

‘…to introduce a Bill in the next session of Parliament to provide for the holding of a national referendum on whether the United Kingdom should:

  1. remain a member of the European Union on the current terms;
  2. leave the European Union; or
  3. re-negotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation.’