Thursday, 2 July 2009

Constitutional Crises

In the USA successive governments and activist judges have challenged or ignored the Constitution. Reason TV has made a short video about the destruction wrought to the rights of Americans.

But hasn’t the same thing been done in Britain, over the last 36 years, although much faster in the last twelve?

Most of these elements are or should be in the United Kingdom Constitution. There is a myth that Britain does not have a written constitution. The Magna Carter, the Bill of Rights, the Act of Settlement, the Acts of Union and a couple of dozen more are conveniently ignored. There are unwritten elements to the constitution, largely in terms of conventions, but written or unwritten there is no excuse for not following them.

The Bill of Rights allows freedom of speech, yet people are questioned by police and threatened with prosecution, even taken to court, for expressing unpopular beliefs. Property rights are arbitrarily set aside, contrary to the Petition of Rights (for example fishermen who are broken and gaoled in a Kafkaesque process). The right to silence has been thrown away, and the right not to incriminate oneself. Repeated attempts to interfere with rights to Habeas Corpus have largely failed, fortunately. The latest attack on Parliament has failed, but others have been taken further. The very concept that a sovereign Parliament represents the people, as established by the Bill of Rights, has been ignored, and Brown intends now to throw it away by setting a committee above the Commons, instead of using transparency and votes to hold MPs to account.

Although the UK Constitution is complicated by the history of its development, this should be its strength not a weakness. It is only because politicians, journalists and judges ignore the constitutional implications of government decisions that this is allowed. Some have argued that we need a written constitution to protect us from authoritarian governments like our current one. The video shows that is not a solution. Both the UK and USA need people to notice when their constitutions we have is being breached, and need to respect the crucial protection afforded by these systems developed over centuries.

Hat tip to Instapundit for the link to Reason TV.

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