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Joshua Rozenberg
Sunday 20th December 2009
Rights and the Right

The new January/February edition of Standpoint is now online, with my column explaining why the Government has established no fewer than three official inquiries into of the Iraq war. I remain unimpressed with the argument that to be effective an inquiry must be run by judges and lawyers.

But the piece I recommend you to read is Geoffrey Robertson's plea for the introduction of a British Bill of Rights, in which the archetypal New-Labour lawyer says that David Cameron's call for reform of the Human Rights Act 1998 "deserves enthusiastic support".

Shrewdly choosing Standpoint as his preferred method of communicating with the Conservative leader, Robertson drops a clear hint that he would be happy to serve on the "non-partisan drafting committee" that he wants Cameron to set up. No doubt he'd be even happier to chair it.

The QC has plenty of suggestions for inclusion in a Bill of Rights that could be approved by a National Convention and then entrenched by Parliament after a referendum, presumably in the hope of preventing it from being amended by a future (Labour) government.

Showing the confident familiarity with "our historic struggles for liberty" that you would expect only from someone born and educated in the colonies, Robertson says the Human Rights Act has not led to the culture of liberty that its proponents had predicted "largely because of the perception that it is 'European'".

That perception, he argues, could be avoided by creating a "British" Bill of Rights, especially if embodied in a constitution.

At one point though, he articulates a truth that Cameron would rather not mention.

"Some Europhobic members of his party have applauded [the planned British Bill of Rights] on the misunderstanding that it will mean abandonment of the European Convention," says Robertson. "It will not: ultimate compliance with that Convention will remain a treaty obligation, as it does for 46 other European countries."

Maybe Robertson isn't a natural Tory after all.

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About Joshua Rozenberg

Joshua Rozenberg is an independent legal commentator who presents Law in Action on BBC Radio 4.

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