Recently we celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, marking 800 years since King John signed the original document in 1215 at Runnymede. It acted as a peace treaty between the monarch and a group of rebellious barons who had grown tired of the crowns unscrutinised powers.
Since then, Magna Carta has become the founding document for modern democracies across the world, heralding the rights and freedoms of everybody in society. As David Cameron noted, it forever changed the balance of power between the governed and the government.
It is perhaps one of – if not the – greatest British export to the world, with its influence evident in documents including the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. It is also a stark reminder that Britain is, and always has been, a beacon for liberties and rights for centuries. This is something I have been quick to remind people of when engaging in debate about any plans for a British Bill of Rights.
We must ensure that we safeguard the legacy, the freedoms and the achievements of the rebellious barons, to provide rights for everybody. This will be at the heart of any plans to replace the current Human Rights Act, which currently incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into British law.
For anybody who says these moves are a threat to our human rights, or that by repealing the Human Rights Act we will be signalling the end of basic liberties; just point them to Magna Carta. Individual rights have existed in this country long before 1998 (when the HRA was passed). Therefore we must not allow anybody to tell us that Britain is not capable of protecting the rights of its own citizens without Europe.
Unfortunately the primacy of our courts and Parliament has been eroded by the current HRA. Specific examples include the dozens of criminals fighting deportation from Britain who have invoked the ECHR to argue that their ‘right to family life’ means that they can stay in Britain. We all remember the case of Abu Qatada, whose long legal battle cost the taxpayer significantly.
Another example of the ever-creeping control of Strasbourg is the issue of prisoner voting rights. The ECHR has deemed the UK’s ban of allowing prisoners to vote as illegal, despite consensus among the British public and in Parliament that prisoners should not be allowed to vote.