The Impact of the European Convention on Human Rights on UK Law

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The Impact of the European Convention on Human Rights on UK Law

In democratic societies, it is usually felt that there are certain basic rights which should be available to everyone. These rights tend to vary in different legal systems but they generally include such freedoms as the right to say, think and believe what you like (freedom of expression, thought and conscience), and to form groups with others (freedom of assembly).

Most democratic countries have a written Bill of Rights, which lays down the rights which, by law, can be enjoyed by citizens of that country. These rights have to be respected by the courts, parliament, the police and private citizens, unless the Bill of Rights allows
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A Bill of Rights would protect UK citizens against such breaches.

There are advantages of having a Bill of Rights, the main two being restricting the executive and the attitude of the judiciary.

A Bill of Rights provides an important check on the enormous powers of the executive. Dicey saw the role of parliament as a watchdog over the executive, ensuring that oppressive legislation could not be passed. Since then though the party system has altered the nature of parliament, government proposals will almost invariably be passed as the government can expect their own members to obey party discipline. This can lead to governments being able to legislate against individual rights and freedoms almost at will.

Supporters of a Bill of Rights claim it would curb executive powers, since courts could simply refuse to apply laws, which conflicted with it. This in turn would be a powerful incentive for a government to avoid introducing such legislation in the first place.

The provision in s.19 of the Human Rights Act 1998, requiring ministers to state whether a Bill conforms with the 1998 Act, this will discourage the executive in some circumstances from introducing legislation that breaches the European Convention on Human Rights, but they are still able to do so, which is a huge weakness of the present situation.

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