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Private Rights v Public Snooping – Protecting the Individual with a UK Bill of Rights

Proud of their common law liberties, the British people have little sense of ownership of the European Convention on Human Rights. Often they see the European Court as out-of-touch or going beyond its remit in creating rights not intended by the architects of the European Convention signed in 1950. This is all to the detriment of democratic accountability and the cause of human rights here in Britain. A UK bill of rights could address both problems.

A new domestic instrument which reflects Britain’s legal and historical heritage, culture and contemporary values will, if properly drafted, give the people of Britain a document in which they can feel a sense of ownership and pride. When the draft for the new bill of rights is published, the Government will decide whether it just replicates the European Convention on Human Rights or develops a bespoke bill of rights relevant to a modern Britain. I hope that they will choose to be bold. As a bespoke instrument which fully reflects the fundamental freedoms and liberties which have been won for the British people from the time of Magna Carta onwards, it could reflect the values of the British people in our contemporary and cosmopolitan age.

As the Government publishes its draft bill on investigatory powers, the problems associated with the commoditisation of personal data comes into focus. The right to online privacy is one important aspect that could be covered by such a bill of rights. So could be a broader recognition for the British people of a right to data protection against government and the private sector.

Although these rights must, of course, be subject to exceptions so that the country is kept safe, a UK Bill of Rights should take account of the age of technology and safeguard everyday people from new challenges posed to data protection by Government and corporate interests alike. A UK Bill of Rights ought to recognise that State-invasive powers should only be exercised within a statutory framework and in the presence of a judicial warrant.

These thoughts as to recognition of potential new rights are by no means exhaustive. However, in recalibrating the balance between rights and responsibilities, the government should not be shy to articulate our civil libertarian credentials.

 

Professor Jonathan Fisher QC

Jonathan Fisher QC is a leading barrister for financial crime and proceeds of crime cases as well as fraud, both civil and criminal, and tax cases. He is also a Visiting Professor in Practice in the Law Department of the London School of Economics. He was chairman of research of the Society of Conservative Lawyers between 2006 and 2010, and a Commissioner on the Bill of Rights Commission between 2011 and 2012. His publications include Rescuing Human Rights (2012) and for Politeia he was author of The British Bill of Rights: Protecting Freedom Under the Law (2015).

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