Mon 18 February 2008, The Guardian

Our untidy constitution serves Britain well

By Marcel Berlins
A speech by the lord chancellor, Jack Straw, last Wednesday, preceded by an interview on the Today programme and succeeded on Thursday by a speech by the justice minister, Michael Wills, ought to have clarified exactly what the government's constitutional reform programme consists of - and, more importantly, why it's needed. It didn't. Let us start by a reminder that we already have a Human Rights Act which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights, a list of the fundamental rights and freedoms to which we are all entitled. To that, the government now wishes to add a specifically British "bill of rights and responsibilities" (that last word is Straw's; Wills uses "duties" instead, which is not quite the same, but never mind). Straw is adamant that this new document will accompany the Human Rights Act, not supplant it. But what will it do? Will it just be a repetition, or a very slight variation, of the rights we already have under the act, with the addition of a few duties and responsibilities? Or will the new list be tailored and worded to British circumstances so that we will have two separate sets of rights running parallel? If so, will the rights and responsibilities laid down in the proposed British bill be enforceable in the courts? Will our citizens have the luxury of being able to choose whether to go to court under the Human Rights Act or the new British bill, or even use both? Surely not.
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It was published by The Guardian, which adheres to the Guardian Editorial Code

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