7. Are rights universal?

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Session info
14.00 – 15.15

Supported by:
BIHR Justice

Who should be accorded which rights and why? Should a Bill of Rights only be for British citizens? Could a Bill of Rights include social and economic rights? What about common law rights such as trial by jury?

A new Bill of Rights for Britain would be a major constitutional step. It could go further than the Human Rights Act and include new rights, such as social rights or the right to trial by jury. Or it could take a retrogressive step and reduce hard won human rights protection in the UK, limiting people’s ability to enforce rights they already have under the Human Rights Act.

One major issue is the scope of a Bill of Rights. The Human Rights Act currently protects everyone living in the UK, be they citizen or refugee, asylum seeker or migrant. Would proposals for a British Bill of Rights add or subtract from this protection? Would it contain rights that are universal? Asylum seekers, refugees and migrants are among the most vulnerable members of our society. Often victims of human rights violations or poor treatment, they have fewer alternative means of protection and often live in poverty. What would be the implications of an exclusive Bill of Rights restricted to British citizens only?

A second major issue is the content of a Bill of Rights: would any existing rights be taken away? A Bill of Rights opens the opportunity to discuss protection of economic and social rights, such as the right to health, education or shelter, as well as traditional common law rights such as the right to trial by jury. And, a British Bill of Rights would not happen in isolation: what would it mean in the context of the international human rights treaties that the UK has already agreed to and ratified, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?

This seminar considers the opportunities, risks and challenges of a Bill of Rights. Is this an opportunity to take the international lead on human rights thinking or will it result in a weakened human rights framework, in which the vulnerable lose out?

Chair: Ehsan Masood (writer and journalist)
Speakers: Jean Candler (head of Policy and Public Affairs, BIHR)
  Andrew Dismore MP (chair, Joint Committee on Human Rights)
  David Goodhart (editor, Prospect)
  Roger Smith (director, JUSTICE)
  Geraldine Van Bueren (Professor of International Human Rights Law, Queen Mary; see this recent article on a UK bill of rights for the Guardian’s liberty central)