Thinking Anglicans

CofE body says 'no' to UK Bill of Rights proposals

The Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Church of England has issued its Response to the Discussion Paper from the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights.

Press release.

Offering a clear “no” in answer to the question, “Do we need a UK Bill of Rights?”, the response goes on to argue that a UK Bill of Rights would either re-state the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, in which case it would be superfluous, or would add to them, in which case the additional rights and obligations would not be binding in the same sense as the Convention and their status in UK law would be unclear.

If on the other hand the Bill attempted to restrict or abolish Convention rights, it would be incompatible with the UK’s international obligations, the response argues; it is also unclear what specific additional rights would be included in a UK Bill.

The response comments that the parties in the coalition Government have diametrically opposed attitudes to human rights, and therefore the proposal does not offer a coherent basis for legislating on such an important subject.

Then the response offers five considerations in answer to the question “Having regard to our terms of reference, are there any other views which you would like to put forward at this stage?”. One point suggests that “some of the concerns driving the demand for a UK Bill of Rights would be met by appropriate reforms of the operation of the European Court of Human Rights”, the final point adding: “A better way forward might be increased use by the European Court of the ‘margin of appreciation’, whereby variations in the application of the Convention are allowed in view of the diverse history, traditions and institutions of different states.”

Full response (only four pages, but a PDF).

The Mission & Public Affairs Council of the Church of England is the body responsible for overseeing research and comment on social and political issues on behalf of the Church. The Council comprises a representative group of bishops, clergy and lay people with interest and expertise in the relevant areas, and reports to the General Synod through the Archbishops’ Council.


  • Iain McLean says:

    Hey, this is jolly good. It is signed by Philip Giddings, and most readers of TA might be surprised to agree with him.

    I think he is right, both that the the proposed British Bill of Rights is complete nonsense, and that it would be good (for religious freedom among other things) if the European Court of Human Rights gave a wider (in the jargon) “margin of appreciation” to member States.

  • It could seem rather strange – to anyone not associated with the Church of England – for those advocates on its behalf to oppose renewed efforts to pass legislation towards the attainment of Human Rights for U.K. citizens. When have human rights been in conflict with ‘true religion’?

  • Savi Hensman says:


    Some in the UK government are hostile to the Human Rights Act currently in force, and indeed the whole concept of universal human rights, and see the move towards a UK Bill of Rights as a way to undermine these, or at least sow confusion.

  • Steve Lusk says:

    “When have human rights been in conflict with ‘true religion’?” When they treat “sodomites” and those woman-things as if they were human?

  • rjb says:

    This is actually an excellent and well-argued (and concise!) response, which asks some searching questions of the coalition government. It reminds me a little of the caliph Umar’s famous (and fictional) riposte on the libraries of Alexandria: if the proposed BOR merely confirms the terms of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, then we don’t need it; if it attempts to limit or contravene the terms of the ECHR, then it is illegal and we cannot accept it. The onus is upon the government to explain just what this muddled and pointless bit of legislation is intended to achieve, other than pandering to the tabloid press.

    Contrary to the misapprehensions of some of the commenters here, it’s a clear sign that the Church of England can still show itself to be on the side of the angels – and of clear, straightforward, principled thinking.

  • Opposing a particular piece of human rights legislation does not necessarily mean opposing human rights. Indeed, one might reject the entire construct of enumerating particular rights in a legislative or constitutional document while believing strongly in the defence of inalienable human rights. This is particularly so in a country with a Westminster style Parliament.

    I recall in the early 1980s when the left’s favourite fascist Pierre Trudeau (the only Canadian Prime Minister to decalre martial law in peacetime) attempted to impose the original version of what became the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Wile the motoves of several of those opposing him might well be questioned, no one could seriously argue that Saskatchewan Premier Allan Blakeney was seeking to undermine human rights.

    Blakeney was concerned that Trudeau’s proposed Charter would have the unintended consequence of limiting the capacity of governments to implement programs to advance the opportunities for women and for First Nations and MĂ©tis people in Canada. He was also of a mind that governments either would or would not respect the rights of citizens, and that a grand Charter actually would do little to protect human rights from a government intent on violating those rights.

  • Thanks, Savi and Malcolm, for bringing me up to date on the realities of the present situation in the U.K. I guess the bottom line is that the Church should always be seen to encourage basic human rights for ALL people. The parameters of what those rights are, of course, are always disputable.

  • Feria says:

    As Savi and rjb suggest, it strikes me that the real danger is not that a UK Bill of Rights will add to the provisions of the European Convention, but that it will subtract from them.

  • Jean Mary Mayland says:

    In my view it is ironic that the Bishops seek to defend legal provisions for human rights when in the House of Lords they strongly oppose the granting of full equality – an element of full human rights to women and gay people in the Church.

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