David Cameron

David Cameron promises a “British Bill of Rights”. And what, exactly, does that mean?

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference today, David Cameron spoke — albeit in very general terms — about human-rights reform. Here is the entirely of what he said on this subject:

Of course, it’s not just the European Union that needs sorting out – it’s the European Court of Human Rights. When that charter was written, in the aftermath of the Second World War, it set out the basic rights we should respect. But since then, interpretations of that charter have led to a whole lot of things that are frankly wrong. Rulings to stop us deporting suspected terrorists. The suggestion that you’ve got to apply the human rights convention even on the battle-fields of Helmand. And now – they want to give prisoners the vote.

I’m sorry, I just don’t agree. Our Parliament – the British Parliament – decided they shouldn’t have that right. This is the country that wrote Magna Carta … the country that time and again has stood up for human rights …  whether liberating Europe from fascism or leading the charge today against sexual violence in war.

Let me put this very clearly: We do not require instruction on this from judges in Strasbourg. So at long last, with a Conservative Government after the next election, this country will have a new British Bill of Rights to be passed in our Parliament, rooted in our values … and as for Labour’s Human Rights Act? We will scrap it, once and for all.

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The astonishingly low standard of Human Rights Act bashing

Last week, I came across — and briefly joined in — an astonishing exchange on Twitter concerning repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998. It was prompted by a report that former Attorney-General Dominic Grieve anticipates that, in his Conservative Party conference speech this week, David Cameron will announce plans to dilute the UK’s commitment to upholding the European Convention on Human Rights. (That the Conservatives will adopt such plans at some point seems inevitable; indeed, Grieve’s sacking was clearly intended to pave the way for this.)

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Bogdanor on “English votes for English laws”: A response

In his recent trenchant piece in The Guardian, Vernon Bogdanor argues that “English votes for English laws” — a possible response to the West Lothian Question — would be a “logical absurdity”:

English votes for English laws seems at first sight a logical response to the English Question. But it is in fact incoherent. It means that whenever a government depended on Scottish MPs for its majority, as could occur if Labour were narrowly elected in 2015, there would be a UK majority – Labour – for non-devolved matters such as foreign affairs and economics, but an alternative majority for devolved matters. But a bifurcated government is a logical absurdity. A government must be collectively responsible to parliament for all the policies that come before it, not just a selection of them.

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Constitutional reform following the Scottish referendum: a short(ish) reading list

Since the result of the Scottish referendum was announced last week, there has been a great deal of discussion about both Scotland’s constitutional future within the UK and the position of England. Here is a collection of resources concerning the discussion so far:

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Article in “The Conversation” on the Scottish independence vote

I published a long piece earlier today about the Scottish independence vote — and, in particular, its constitutional implications for the UK as a whole. I have also written a much shorter article for The Conversation on the same topic; it’s available here.

Union jack: hugely symbolic.

Scotland has voted “no”. What next for the UK constitution?

After a very long — and at times electrifying — campaign, a modest but decisive majority of those who participated in the referendum on Scottish independence have voted “no”. In one sense, this is the end of the process — even if, bearing in mind the main UK parties’ still-to-be-fulfilled promises about further devolution, it is only the beginning of the end. In another sense, however, it might turn out to be only the end of the beginning.

Had Scotland voted “yes”, this would have represented a constitutional shock of seismic proportions, and would quite conceivably have resulted in major constitutional changes in the remainder of the UK. It is less certain that such changes will follow the “no” vote. Nevertheless, it is likely that the “no” vote will leave at least some sort of — and potentially a very significant — constitutional legacy thanks to the conferral upon the Scottish Parliament of the additional powers promised by the main UK parties during the final weeks of the independence campaign.

It is not, however, obvious that the changes provoked by the referendum will — or should — be confined to the beefing up of the existing devolution system. As the debate moves on from the falsely binary form — independence or Union? — it took during the campaign, a more searching and granular debate can and will succeed it. (“Falsely” binary because, as I have argued before, both independence and Union are highly catholic concepts that bear a range of meanings and are capable of shading into one another.) That debate will concern not the apparently extreme options that were on offer to the people of Scotland, but the constitutional smorgasbord of possibilities that arise when we consider what kind of Union should exist, as we move forward, between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  

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Cambridge Public Law Conference 2014

It has been my great pleasure this week — along with three of my colleagues in the Faculty of Law at Cambridge — to co-convene a major international conference on public law. The following account of the conference — and of our plans for future conferences in the series — is based on the news item published today on the Faculty’s website. 

From 15 to 17 September 2014, the Faculty of Law hosted a major international conference on Process and Substance in Public Law. The conference, sponsored by Hart Publishing, was specifically designed to address a clear need for a regular, international public law conference, bringing together common lawyers from a variety of jurisdictions. The intellectual case for a conference of this nature stems from the fact that common law systems are simultaneously similar to and different from one another. While those from common law jurisdictions all work from background understandings that have enough in common to facilitate fruitful engagement, significant differences between such systems open up opportunities for valuable exchanges of ideas and debate. These possibilities were realised at the conference; the exceptionally high quality of the papers was matched by the quality of the debate which they provoked, as participants grappled and engaged with points of contact and contrast between the many jurisdictions that were represented.

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