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The Human Rights Act has been described as the 'only legal show in town' and it is therefore unnecessary and even constitutionally undesirable to go further by introducing a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

The Human Rights Act has been described as the 'only legal show in town' and it is therefore unnecessary and even constitutionally undesirable to go further by introducing a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Theresa McDermott. Originally submitted for LLB Hons Law at University of Ulster, with lecturer Anne Smith in the category of Law
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Theresa McDermott. Originally submitted for LLB Hons Law at University of Ulster, with lecturer Anne Smith in the category of Law

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
1
In declaring the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) to be the “only legal show in town”
1
  Austen Morgan has alleged that the HRA singularly provides a level of human rightsprotection so comprehensive as to warrant no further elaboration or expansion of therights contained therein. Any such modifications of those rights brought about by theintroduction of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland would, he contends, have seriousimplications for the constitution of the United Kingdom, most acutely with regard tothe constitutional principles of parliamentary sovereignty and the separation of powers. It is contended herein that such claims are manifestly unfounded. Not onlyis the HRA outdated, defective and far from comprehensive, it is not Northern
Ireland‟s Bill of Rights.
 The current bill of rights debate in Northern Ireland, with its origins in The GoodFriday Agreement 1998, has been long-drawn out and deeply divisive
2
, with somewelcoming the idea of the bill
as “an opportunity for all and a threat to none”
3
whileothers defiantly insist that they will
“lose no sleep”
4
if the bill never finds its way intolaw. This difference of opinion between the main political parties can be explained
with reference to “a fear that a temporary advantage of the “other” side mighttranslate into total defeat of their “own”.”
5
Despite numerous consultations, debatesand deliberations on the matter, together with a recent poll which indicates that a
1
 
Morgan, A “What Bill of Rights?” [2001] 52 Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 234
-268 at 235
2
 
Harvey, C and Russell, D “A New Beginning for Human Rights Protection in Northern Ireland” [2009] European
Human Rights Law Review 748-767 at 749
3
Alex Attwood, SDLP, BBC News Online: UK and Ireland, Thursday 3 January 2002 available athttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/northern_ireland/1739578.stm
4
 
UUP “Bill of Rights Should Be Rejected” November 3 2009 available at
http://www.uup.org/news/general/general-news-archive/bill-of-rights-should-be-rejected.php
5
 
Livingstone, S “The Need for a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland” [2001] 52 Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly
269-285 at 280
 
2
significant majority of the Northern Ireland electorate are in favour of such a bill
6
, andthe fact that it remains
“one of the British government‟s key unfulfilled commitments
7
 arising from the Good
Friday Agreement”
8
, the Northern Ireland Assembly remainsradically divided on the issue today. The leading parties stand in polar opposition onthe subject; Nationalist enthusiasm, at one extreme, is fuelled by the anticipation thatsuch a bill will deliver what the HRA did not; fully justiciable socio-economic rights,
and a “guarantee
that the future will be different from the past",
9
while Unionistabhorrence at the other extreme, stems from a deep-seated fear, reflective of that of  Austen Morgan, that a separate bill of rights for Northern Ireland would
“shatter human rights protections in the UK“
10
 
and “sepa
rate Northern Ireland from Great
Britain in this respect”
,
11
serving only to undermine and erode the Union of GreatBritain and Northern Ireland.
12
 
Stephen Livingstone suggested that this was “very
much a minority perspective among U
nionists throughout the United Kingdom”
13
butit would appear to be the prevailing perspective amongst Unionist MLAs. TheDemocratic Unionist Party (DUP) has contended that it;
14
 is little wonder nationalist politicians are so keen to embrace this erroneousinterpretation as it helps to distance our laws and policies from the rest of theUK and becomes in effect a badge of difference.
6
 
Keenan, D “70% in North back Bill of Rights, Poll Finds” Wednesday 13 May 2009 available at
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/0513/1224246388172.html
7
Policing and Justice Powers have recently been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly leaving the bill of rights as the only remaining key issue to be addressed.
8
 
Sinn Fein “Bill Must Contain Strengthened Socio
-
Economic Rights for All” November 30 200
9 available athttp://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/17824
9
Patricia Lewsley, SDLP, BBC News Online: UK and Ireland, Thursday 3 January 2002 available athttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/northern_ireland/1739578.stm
10
 
Morgan, A “What Bill of Rights?” [2001] 52 North
ern Ireland Legal Quarterly 234-268 at 247
11
 
ibid 
12
 
Livingstone, S “The Need for a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland” [2001] 52 Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly
269-285 at 272
13
 
ibid 
at 273
14
 
DUP “DUP on Northern Ireland Bill of Rights” PDF March 30 2010 available at
http://www.dup.org.uk/default.htm
 
3
While it is acknowledged that
devolution may “raise certain difficulties
for the legalformulation of any ... Bil
l of Rights”, Stephen Livingstone contends that “
these[difficulties] are not
insurmountable.”
15
 To complicate the matter even further, the parliamentary Joint Committee onHuman Rights published a report in August 2008,
A Bill of Rights for the UK? 
16 
 
inwhich it recommended that Britain
adopt a Bill of Rights and Freedoms since this
would provide „a moment when society can define itself.‟
17
In November 2009, theConservative Party announced that it would
scrap plans for the [NI] Bill, replacing itwith a UK-wide Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.
18
This has found great favour 
with the DUP who “
consider a UK Bill with a Northern Ireland chapter to be infinitelymore appropriate than the Northern Ireland Bill envisaged by rights champions.
19
 The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), branding the bill
“ridiculous”,
20
has been equally
receptive of the Conservative plans to “
ditch the Bill of Rights if they come to power in the next election.
21
 
Bills of rights are more than simply a “list of basic rights that everyone in the stateis entitled to enjoy.”
22
 
Francesca Klug describes them as “rather strangecreatures”.
23
 
Their significance is not limited to the legal or the constitutional; “part
15
 
Livingstone, S “The Need for a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland” [2001] 52 Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly
269-285 at 277
16
HL 165, HC 150, 2007-8
17
 
Bogdanor, V “Human Rights and the New British Constitution” JUSTICE Tom Sargant Memorial Annual
Lecture 2009, Given at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, London on Wednesday 14 October 2009
18
 
UUP “Bill of Rights Should Be Rejected” November 3 20
09 available athttp://www.uup.org/news/general/general-news-archive/bill-of-rights-should-be-rejected.php
19
 
DUP “DUP on Northern Ireland Bill of Rights” PDF March 30 2010 available at
http://www.dup.org.uk/default.htm
20
 
UUP “Bill of Rights Should Be Rejected” November 3 2009 available at
http://www.uup.org/news/general/general-news-archive/bill-of-rights-should-be-rejected.php
21
 
ibid 
 
22
 
BORNI “What is a Bill of Rights?” available at
http://www.borini.info/what-is-bill-of-rights.aspx accessed16.02.2010
23
K
lug, F “A Bill of Rights: Do We Need One or Do We Already Have One?” [2007] Public Law 701
-719 at 705

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