A British Bill Of Rights

Geoffrey Robertson drafts a Statute of Liberty

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Constitutional commemoration: The Queen celebrates the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta at Runnymede in June (photo: Chris Jackson/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

An Act to Declare the Rights and Freedoms of the British People and to make better provision for the liberty of all persons present in this land.

[Preamble]

1. RIGHT TO LIFE

Every person, having been born, has the right to life and to commensurate dignity throughout that life. Any killing by police or any death attributable to other agents of the state must be fully and independently investigated. No death penalty shall ever be carried out in this nation.

2. PROHIBITION OF TORTURE

No cruel or unusual punishment shall be inflicted. No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhumane treatment.

3. FREEDOM FROM COMPULSION

There shall be no conscription, nor shall any person be impressed or constrained to serve in wars. No one shall be subjected to medical or scientific experiment unless they give their free and informed consent.

4. RIGHT TO BE SET AT LIBERTY

No free person shall be taken or imprisoned or outlawed or exiled except by the lawful judgment of their peers or by the law of the land. Every person detained shall have the right to bring an action for habeas corpus, namely to be produced speedily before a court and to be set free unless the detaining authority can prove that its actions are both lawful and sensible.

5. RIGHTS ON ARREST

I. No person who has not been arrested shall be imprisoned, confined or in sundry other ways molested or disquietened without having opportunity to challenge such infringement of his or her liberty.

II. No one shall be imprisoned for debt or inability to perform a contract.

III. Persons subject to arrest in the course of police inquiries and bailed until further notice must be told, within a maximum of three months, whether they are to be prosecuted, unless a judge can be persuaded that further time is necessary for police to complete their inquiries.

IV. Persons arrested or detained on any criminal charge

a) must be informed promptly, and if practicable in language they can understand, of the reason for their arrest;

b) must be brought before a court as soon as practicable and in any event within 48 hours. In special cases, Parliament may provide for up to seven days’ detention prior to the first court appearance;

c) shall be entitled to legal advice, free of charge, as soon as practicable and in any event prior to their first court appearance;

d) must have interviews with police or persons in authority recorded electronically or by an independent third party;

e) shall be entitled to apply to a court for bail, which must not be excessive.

6. THE OPEN JUSTICE PRINCIPLE

Justice must be seen to be done, other than in cases involving children and secret patents where courts may, subject to relevant law, sit in private. Every court in the land shall be open to the media and the public, unless it is established beyond reasonable doubt that justice cannot be done other than by their exclusion for part of the proceedings, or that such exclusion is essential to protect the lives of witnesses or others or to protect national security. In any such case, the judgment of the court must be delivered publicly.

7. RIGHT TO TRIAL BY JURY

Every person charged with a criminal offence carrying a maximum prison sentence of more than one year has a right (which only they may waive) to trial by jury.

8. THE RIGHT TO FAIR TRIAL

I. In the determination of civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

II. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

III. Everyone brought to trial for a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:

a) to have the prosecution evidence disclosed to them well before the trial begins;

b) to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of their defence and to communicate with legal representatives;

c) to attend their own trial and defend themselves in person or through legal assistance of their own choosing or, if they do not have sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;

d) to examine or have examined witnesses against them and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on their behalf under the same conditions;

e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if they cannot understand or speak English;

f) if convicted, to have the right to ask a higher court for leave to appeal against conviction and/or sentence;

g) if sentenced, to have judges mindful that mercy seasons justice.

9. NO PUNISHMENT WITHOUT LAW

I. No one shall be found guilty of any criminal charge on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under UK or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the offence was committed.

II. No person may be punished more than once for the same offence.

10. FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT

I. Every person lawfully present in the UK has freedom to move within it, and to choose where in the country to live. Every holder of a UK passport shall be entitled, subject to any law or court order, to leave the country and if a UK citizen he or she shall have the right to a passport and shall be guaranteed the right to return. Every person accepted for residence in the UK shall be afforded the opportunity to become a citizen in due course.

II. The UK will entertain asylum claims from any persons who come to or within its boundaries and claim they are refugees under the Refugee Convention 1951 and can establish they are fleeing from a country where they are, or have a well-founded fear of being, persecuted in a way that will endanger their life or that of close family members. A precondition of such a claim must be their preparedness to accept the rights and responsibilities set forth in this statute.

III. No person shall be accepted for residence status or citizenship unless he or she can understand and accept the rights in this statute and can affirm that they accept its responsibilities.

IV. Article 16 of the European Convention of Human Rights, allowing the government to impose any political restrictions on aliens despite their rights of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom from discrimination, shall not in the United Kingdom provide any authority or argument for taking these rights away from them.

11. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

I. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to hold and express opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by government.

II. Practitioners of journalism shall have a right to protect their sources, subject only to overriding considerations of public interest.

III. The above rights shall be accorded especial importance in any court proceedings in which they are properly invoked.

IV. This right shall create a presumption in favour of publication, rebuttable only if the restriction sought to be placed upon it is essential in the interests of democratic society to guard against incitement to crime or to safeguard national security or to enable other citizens to stop lies being told about them, or to preserve confidential information or to protect their privacy as defined in Article 12.

V. Citizens have a right to know about the workings of their government. In addition to their rights under the Freedom of Information Act, and subject to iv) above, all Cabinet papers and other government documents shall be made available for public inspection within ten years of their creation.

VI. These rights may be invoked by media organisations on behalf of their journalists and editors, and/or on behalf of their readers, viewers or listeners.


12. RIGHT TO PRIVACY

Everyone has the right to have his or her home and genuine family life respected and to prevent passing on, or publication of, intimate personal details, or disclosure of personal matters concerning children in their care. Public authorities shall not interfere with the exercise of this right unless such interference serves the public interest and is in accordance with court-authorised surveillance or legally prescribed data-protection principles or ethics codes promulgated for the media by representative or statutory bodies.

13. FREEDOM OF THOUGHT, CONSCIENCE AND RELIGION

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, to manifest religion or belief in worship or other forms of observance and to expound the tenets of that religion to others. This freedom shall not extend to religions or other movements that preach hatred or incite violence or urge discrimination on grounds of sex or race or sexual orientation and shall not protect religions from criticism made by persons exercising their free speech rights under Article 11.
   

14. FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATION

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, peaceful protest, and to freedom of association with others. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety of for the prevention of disorder or crime or the protection of the rights and freedoms set out in this statute.

15. RIGHT TO OWN PROPERTY

I. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others, and such property if lawfully acquired must be protected by the state against private violence, deprivation, compulsion or intimidation.

II. Nobody shall be deprived of his or her property arbitrarily.

III. There shall be no confiscation of private property by the state other than when it is in satisfaction of a judgment of debt or if it is reasonably suspected to be the proceeds of crime or to be held for a corrupt purpose.

IV. The state may acquire private property but only on just terms.

16. RIGHT TO WORK

I. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to safe and healthy conditions of work and to protection against unemployment;

II. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work;

III. Everyone who works has the right to fair remuneration, ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

IV. Everyone has the right, without victimisation, to form and join trade unions for the protection of their interests and in the course of that protection to have trade unions represent them in collective bargaining and other lawful actions.

V. Full-time workers have the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, including sick pay.

17. RIGHT TO WELL-BEING

I. Everyone without distinction has a right to nourishment, housing, covering, medical care and attention from the National Health Service, sufficient to realise their physical and mental development and to keep them in a state of health from their birth onwards.

II. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, including necessary social services and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond their control.

III. The government is required to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of the rights in (i) and (ii) above.

IV. Everyone has the right to due respect when treated in any hospital or nursing home or care centre or medical surgery, and where practicable to give informed consent before undergoing any invasive surgical procedure.

18. RIGHT TO EDUCATION

I. Everyone has the right to education sufficient to make them useful and interested citizens. Education shall be free and compulsory, at least at primary and until an intermediate secondary level. Technical and professional education shall be open to all and higher education shall be appropriately accessible.

II. The government is required to take reasonable measures, within its available resources, to make technical and professional education and higher education progressively available and affordable and to provide easy access to information through public libraries which offer internet facilities as well as wide-ranging reading material.

III. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and the values that are set out in this Statute.

IV. Parents have a right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children, subject to the right of the government to set curricula and to refuse approval to schools where teaching is or is likely to breach (iii) above or otherwise infringes rules set by Parliament.

19. THE RIGHT TO DEMOCRACY

Every citizen and/or resident and/or taxpayer over the age of 18 has the right and must have the opportunity, without discrimination:

I. to take part in government, directly by standing for Parliament or by voting, freely and secretly, for chosen representatives in electorates that ought to be indifferently proportioned according to the number of inhabitants.

II. to have access, on terms of equality and merit, to the public service and to all public offices.


20. RIGHTS OF PARLIAMENTARY REPRESENTATIVES

I. Freedom of speech in debates or any proceedings in Parliament may not be impeached or questioned in any court of law.

II. MPs shall be entitled freely to communicate with their constituents, and vice-versa. An MP’s parliamentary office shall not be subject to search or interference, save with the permission of the Speaker of the relevant House, who shall if practicable seek the assurance of the Attorney-General that the search is necessary for the investigation of a serious crime.

III. Parliament shall not be disturbed, and MPs shall not be subject to arrest or other forcible process in Parliament or its precincts, except by permission of the Speaker, once the Attorney-General has confirmed that such action is necessary to investigate serious crime.

IV. In all other respects, MPs and peers shall not be above the law.

21. RIGHT TO EFFECTIVE JUSTICE

I. No one shall be denied justice by virtue of excessive court fees or judicial delay.

II. Everyone whose rights and freedoms set out in this statute are violated shall have an effective remedy by way of access to a court or a tribunal empowered to apply the provisions of this Statute.

22. PROHIBITION OF DISCRIMINATION

I. Everyone is equal before the law. In all laws made or to be made, every person may be bound alike; and no tenure, estate, charter, degree, birth or place may confer any exemption from the ordinary course of legal proceedings whereunto others are subjected.

II. The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Statute shall be secured without discrimination on grounds of age, disability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a minority, property, birth or other status.

III. In the implementation of government policy, public servants shall in all decisions that involve the rights stated in sections 16-18 above, bear in mind their duty to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

23. RIGHTS OF CHILDREN

I. Every child has the right —

a) to a name and a nationality from birth;

b) to family care, parental care, or adequate and appropriate alternative care if removed  in accordance with law from a dangerous family environment;

c) to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation;

d) to be protected from exploitative labour practices;

e) not to be detained except as a matter of last resort and then only for the shortest appropriate period of time.

II. A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.

III. Every person under 18 years of age who is detained pending or during trial or after conviction must be segregated from detained adults.

24. RIGHTS OF DISABLED PEOPLE

The government shall ensure, within its available resources, that all persons who are disabled shall be vouchsafed full enjoyment of the rights set out in this Statute without discrimination or diminution on the grounds of their disablement. They shall have the right to live in their community, and shall in particular have, wherever practicable,

I. the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live to the same extent as others;

II. access to a range of in-house, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to prevent isolation from the community;

III. access on an equal basis and in a way that is responsive to their needs, to community services and facilities that are made available to the general population.

25. RIGHT TO A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT

Everyone has the right:

I. to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing;

II. to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that:

a) prevent pollution and ecological degradation;

b) promote conservation and protect native flora and fauna, and areas necessary to maintain biological diversity and ecosystems;

c) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development;

d) preserve properties and places of historic or cultural significance;

e) establish a planning system that ensures encroachments upon areas of natural beauty or heritage value are not approved unless by a fair, transparent and non-corrupt process, which takes that value into account.

III. To timely and adequate assistance in the event of fire, flood, cyclone or other natural catastrophe.

26. DEROGATION IN TIME OF EMERGENCY

In time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation the government may take measures derogating from its obligations under this statute to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation. However there shall be no derogation from Articles 1 and 2.

27. DUTIES

I. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the full and free development of their personality is possible.

II. In the exercise of these rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject to such limitations as are determined by law for the purpose of securing the recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for meeting the just requirements of public order and general welfare in a democratic society.

III. Nothing in this declaration may be interpreted as implying for any group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights or freedoms set forth in this statute.

IV. All persons present in the United Kingdom, however briefly, have a duty to obey the law.