Shaun Woodward’s paper on Human Rights Bill is little better than Monica’s

Thanks to Gonzo for posting the long overdue consultation paper on a Northern Ireland Bill of Human Rights. It’s clear that Monica’s list is damned with typically oily faint praise from Shaun Woodward. However, I believe the consultation is getting off on the wrong foot. There is a strong case for creating a NI Bill which would be, as near as we can make it, basic and fundamental to Northern Ireland rather than supplementary to a British Bill. This is because (1) ideas for a British Bill are in ferment. It would be unwise to share the assumption in Woodwards’ paper that Labour’s ideas will prevail. And (2), a quiet power struggle is developing between parliament and the courts in which the judges headed by the new Supreme Court are likely to win gains, and see the emergence in time of quasi-federal constitutional arrangements for the UK. Many Scots want these too. Under these arrangements, Parliament’s right to alter any predeccessor’s law is likely to be modified in favour of entrenchment and codification of fundamental law. So now’s the time for Northern Ireland to go for its own basic law rather than fiddle round the edges of a British Bill over which it has little say or control, although both Bills would have to be mutually compatible. With a new government at Westminster, a new era begins. I look forward to the law departments of the universities contributing to an informed sensible debate. Excessive localism should be avoided, in spite of the temptation to get bogged down in counter balancing sectarianism. It would be a mistake the reconsider a NI Bill without the closest liasion with what’s happening at Westminster over the next couple of years.
To explain in a bit more detail. First, a basic law for NI would be preferable to nationalists, while remaining under sovereign UK jurisdiction. Second, is it appropriate to leave it to the main UK parties to frame the basic freedoms in a one-size- fit all statute whose form and purpose is new to all of us? It’s not as if the three parties are at one over all this. There’s little sign too that they’re paying much account to the different needs of the devolved areas. Labour and the Conservatives would both like to rein in the power of judges over sentencing in criminal cases and anti-terrorism measures. Labour is more cautious in its approach, but the Conservatives are pledging to replace the Human Rights Act to make rulings of the Strasbourg Human Rights Court (and probably the EU’s court on opt-outs) subordinate to the new Supreme Court.

A big difference is over Labour’s support for some ” eclaratory” economic and social rights for instance health, housing and education which even though unenforceable, are not so far apart from some of Monica’s list. They could be used to create benchmarks for standards of delivery. As health is devolved, why should we not put our own NHS Charter into our Bill of Rights?

Now here’s a complication. A right of equal delivery of say health and education standards throughout the UK could compel best practice throughout all four jurisdictions. On the face if it, that would seems like a real boon ; but it might cut across local discretions and so be unpopular with the politicians whose instincts are the gather as much power as possible to themselves. It’s worth trying though, as devolution become more federal. So don’t let’s be bound by Monica’s list or Shaun’s consultation. He’ll be gone in five months. Now is the time to think outside the box.

  • GFAsupporterbutrealist

    This post is so much nonsense. Professor Brice Dickson, Monica’s predecessor, has publicly recanted his previous tentative view that a Bill of Rights along the ridiculously everything-but-the-kitchen-sink lines of Monica McWilliams is what is needed. He bravely has said he was wrong and was courageous enough to admit it and say why. It is PC foolishness of the highest order to believe that Monica’s shopping list is either realistic or neccessary. There are multiple legal protections in UK and NI law already.
    McWilliams told Dail committees and other public bodies here and abroad that the Good Friday Agreement mandated an NI Bill of Rights. That just isn’t true. Here is what the GFA says: it invited the NIHRC to “consult and to advise on the scope for defining, in Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European
    Convention on Human Rights”. The NIHRC could quite easily have decided that NO supplementary rights to the ECHR were needed.
    But Monica continues to peddle this lie that an NI Bill of Rts is “required.” Plain wrong. The legislation only said a specifically NI Bill of Rights should be CONSIDERED. There is no “mandate” whatsoever. McWilliams is a minority within a minority of anti-state actors like the so-called Committee for the Administration of Justice which doesn’t give a damn about innocent victims but cares mightily about protecting those who created innocent victims. And Monica has garnered 200,000 quid from her favourite foreign funder, Atlantic Philanthropies, for her agenda within the NIHRC. This money — and more is being sought on a massive scale — is coming from Atlantic which is led by……the former head of CAJ. Funny that, eh ? So Monica’s NIHRC doesn’t just use money from within its own budget — no, it goes to a foreign organization which has financed the Sinn Fein offices in the United States, for example, to fund its wish list ! So much for “democratic accountability.” What a double standard.
    Where is McWilliams’s concern for the RESPONSIBILITIES of the citizen ? Nowhere, is where. McWilliams should resign but no doubt will continue to cling on to the quango office to which she was appointed by the egregrious Peter Hain, the worst secretary of state in NI history. It is a disgrace.

  • joeCanuck

    Sorry, Brian, but I cannot buy your argument that N.I. “rights” might be different from those of the other nationalities on these islands.
    A national bill should be short, and the main features should be freedom from arbitrary state power and equality of all citizens. Unenforceable declaratory rights would be meaningless. A court needs to be able to rule on the meaning and whether or not someone has been denied their basic right to something.

  • elvis parker

    ‘a British Bill over which it has little say or control’ – surely we have as much control over a British Bill as say people in Devon or Northumberland?

    Why all the fixation on a NI Bill when the Conservatives have said there wont be one?

    Why all the focus on Labour’s views when the could not pass such a Bill before the election?

  • Brian Walker

    gf’s rant against Monica is largely irrelevant to the post. The main issue by far is a replacement for the Human Rights Act. If the Conservatives replace it or Labour revises it, something has to be put in its place. Why not also an NI Bill to accompany our separate jurisdiction with or without J&P devo? It needn’t be too long. I don’t favour all singing, all dancing either, as I’ve posted several times before. Brice Dickson was recanting over the degree of NI exceptionalism and his earlier too wide range of supposed rights. I agree. He recommends an NI Bill complementary to any new UK Bill with the Supreme Court refereeing any clashes. I respectfully suggest that Brice underestmates the federal pull of developing devolution in the UK as a whole, which would make complementary Bills more viable. Two strands of opinion are unhelpful. One, that it’s all a nationalist plot to deny unionists their majority share of government And 2. Restrictive practices by politicians who fear being done out of work. If only they’d get on with it….

  • read the thing!

    “The legislation only said a specifically NI Bill of Rights should be CONSIDERED. There is no “mandate” whatsoever” posted by gfa supporter BUT!

    …wrong.

    Page 21 of the GFA.

    rights supplementary to those in the European
    Convention on Human Rights, to reflect the particular circumstances of
    Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and
    experience. These additional rights to reflect the principles of mutual
    respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of
    esteem, and – taken together with the ECHR –

    TO CONSTITUTE A BILL OF RIGHTS for Northern Ireland.

  • Brian Walker

    elvis PS David Cameron said he would not implement the commission’s proposals. Neither woud Labour, as we know.

  • Dave

    The idea of NI having sovereignty over its law is almost comical. Despite Dicey’s doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, circa 80% of all new UK laws to not originate in the UK parliament. NI’s parliament is merely the puppet of the UK’s parliament which is merely a puppet of the EU’s parliament, Commission and ECJ. NI cannot, of course, devise any law or right that is incompatible with the UK’s constitution, which in turn cannot devise any law or right that is incompatible with the EU’s constitution. It is the EU who now determine what your fundamental rights are in law, and it is the ECJ who now interpret that law. You only have the token right to devise supplementary law or rights that your masters approve of. You’re as sovereign as the average stringed puppet. If you want to ‘think outside the box’ then you will have to cut your strings and thereby gain the sovereignty to think for yourselves.

  • Dave

    “Despite Dicey’s doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, circa 80% of all new UK laws [b]do[/b] not originate in the UK parliament.”

  • GFAsupporterbutrealist

    Dear “Read the thing,” I did of course read-the-thing, and I quoted the GFA, but since you didn’t get it the first time around, here it is again, in full: “4. The new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (see paragraph 5 below) will be invited to CONSULT and to ADVISE on the SCOPE scope for defining,
    in Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European
    Convention on Human Rights, to reflect the particular circumstances of
    Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and
    experience. These additional rights to reflect the principles of mutual
    respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of
    esteem, and – taken together with the ECHR – to constitute a Bill of Rights
    for Northern Ireland.” As you will see, I have capitalised the relevant words which are not “mandated/required” as Monica McWilliams insists. The NIHRC can “advise” the UK Govt. and that is all it is supposed to do and the UK Govt. can decide to take Monica’s advice or not — and sensibly it hasn’t. It doesn’t like the all-but-the-kitchen-sink agenda which is in Monica’s “scope.” Where is Monica’s concern for a woman’s-right-to-choose, to name but one human right which NI does not enjoy ? Oh, but, in contrast, her concern for making sure Colin Duffy was comfy at Antrim PSNI station was touching, was it not ? She went in person to inspect his living conditions. Speaks volumes about Monica’s “priorities”.
    As for Brian Walker classifying my comment as a “rant” against Monica, I can live with that. But has Mr. Walker no sense of outrage over the massive foreign funding of Monica’s plans which is outside the NIHRC budget? Not a word on that. Ah, hear no evil etc… How PC. Just love those quangos, eh ?

  • oneill

    …rights supplementary to those in the European
    Convention on Human Rights, to reflect the particular circumstances of
    Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and experience. These additiona rights…etc etc

    So have a guess, where did it all go wrong Monica?

  • Brian Walker

    Guys, so much misleading stuff here, so much not seeing the wood for the trees. Yes we don’t have to have an NI Bill of Rights, right! Point dealt with. dave, you misdunderstand sovereignty and an NI Bill. It would be a Westminster Act.. You exaggerate the EU position as Im sure you know.