This year marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. It enshrined a principle of British justice that recent governments of both parties have treated with some contempt. Article 20 stated “A free man shall not be amerced (=punished) for a trivial offence except in accordance with the degree of the offence….but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood….and none of the aforesaid [punishments] shall be imposed save by the oath of reputable men”. Articles 38 to 40 are a firm commitment to due process, asserting the right to legal representation, to know the charges in advance, to be able to contest them before equals, and then only to be sanctioned if found guilty by independent equals.
These rights have been whittled away by successive recent Governments. The principle of proportionality has been lost, the number of acts that can be called criminal have been multiplied enormously and rights to legal aid are denied to many of those for whom it was designed. An unaccountable rash of government agencies administers a vicious arbitrary regime that denies rights and benefits and the bare means of survival to the most vulnerable.
We are bombarded by mis-information about the Human Rights Act by politicians and others who should know better, but have their own agenda and want to restrict our rights even further.
If we are to have a new Great Charter, it must be one that re-asserts the rights and liberties of those who live increasingly insecure lives, re-states their right to protection from state-authorised arbitrary decisions and restores access for all to due legal process. The Human Rights Act is not a charter for others. It is essential to maintaining and restoring our rights and we must protect it at all costs.