Lord Lester and the Bill of Wrongs

That Lord Lester, QC, should love Strasbourg justice is par for the course: he is a LibDem peer after all, and party loyalty has been known to dim the judgment of better men than him. What is deeply worrying is that he seems to be ignorant of the basics of constitutional law. Oh, I’m sure he’s capable of giving you the chapter and verse of Clause X in Article Y, Part Z. What I mean by the basics is understanding what a constitution is, how it comes into being, how it develops historically. You know, the kind of things school children used to learn 100 years ago before they knew what contraceptives were for.

‘Before the Human Rights Act,’ Lord Lester writes in today’s Times, ‘there were insufficient legal remedies in Britain — a country without a written constitution — for breaches of our basic rights.’ Actually, Sir, not having a written constitution is a sign of legal strength, not weakness. It proves that, unlike, say, the USA, France, Germany or Israel, England isn’t a political or ideological contrivance but a nation that has developed organically over centuries. In such lands constitutions are written not on sheets of paper but in the hearts of the people. If they are indeed written there, a unifying document will be redundant. If they aren’t, it’ll be useless. A written constitution is like a prenuptial agreement stipulating the frequence of sex: if you have to write it down, you might as well not bother.

The way ‘our basic rights’ have been protected for over a millennium stacks up rather well against the record of either Germany or France. Since 1688, when the English constitution adopted its modern shape, France has been ruled by several variously carnivorous monarchies (constitutional or otherwise), an ad hoc revolutionary committee, a Directory, a military dictatorship, an emperor, five different republics and, from 1940 to 1944, by the Nazis, first de facto and then de jure. And Germany… well, we all know about her. Throughout that time, England’s legal system, her sage, moderate and balanced constitution, was the envy of the world, including such architects of the Enlightenment as Montesquieu.

Edmund Burke, one of the greatest constitutional minds ever, unerringly identified the three pillars on which our constitution rests: prejudice, which is intuitive knowledge; prescription, which is truth passed on by previous generations; and presumption, which is inference from the common experience of mankind. Signposting the organic development of England’s constitution have indeed been written documents, such as Magna Carta, the Habeas Corpus Act, the Bill of Rights (that inspired a similar American addendum to their constitution), the Act of Settlement — well, this isn’t the place to get into the minutae of constitutional history. This is a place, however, to suggest that, should any constitutional problems arise here, England would be better placed to solve them than Lester’s continental friends.

It is a fact that all our post-war governments, regardless of their party affiliation, have done their best to undermine the best constitution the world has ever known. Inspired by Lester’s clones, they’ve exploded TNT charges under the double-jeopardy law, the right not to give self-incriminating evidence and many others. They’ve also destroyed the constitutional balance to the dictatorship of the Commons traditionally provided by an unelected, hereditary House of Lords. Its resulting impotence is best exemplified by the presence of the likes of Lord Lester in its chambers.

The honourable gentleman is campaigning, somewhat hysterically, for allowing the European Court of Human Rights, that fly-by-night concoction, to override the very nature of Britains’s realm (he’s particularly keen on giving the vote to convicted felons, something that has been wisely withheld since 1870.) He is also proud of being a member of the Commission on a Bill of Rights. But we already have one, your Lordship. It was passed in 1689 by the very parliament you wish to turn into a travesty. And, just for decorum’s sake, Britain doesn’t have ‘citizens’. She has subjects of Her Majesty the Queen. I could recommend a short reading list for Lord Lester to grasp the intricacies of the British realm. But I won’t. He won’t understand.


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