Human rights and the UK constitution

by Colm O'Cinneide

Number of pages


Human rights law has been the subject of considerable controversy in the UK over the last few years. For example the 2011 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that the UK government should end its blanket ban on prisoners voting, once again raised the thorny issue of the UK’s relationship with the European Court and whether the UK should have its own Bill of Rights. The issue of human rights appears frequently within the media and often causes heated debate with the question of the UK’s relationship to the ECHR causing some of the more fervent aspects of the debate. 

In this report Colm O’Cinneide clarifies some of the key issues at stake. He evaluates the workings of the UK human rights law, and the nature of the relationship between the ECHR and the UK courts and the Parliament. Finally, the report explores how proposals for a new Bill of Rights may affect the protection of human rights within the framework of the UK’s unwritten constitution.

Human rights and the UK constitution finds that the current state of human rights law in the UK strikes a good balance between respect for democracy and the need to protest human rights.  Attempting to recalibrate this delicate balance may prove to be a difficult and thankless task.

Steering group:

  • Sandra Fredman QC (Hon) FBA (chair)
  • Vernon Bogdanor CBE FBA
  • John Eekelaar FBA
  • David Feldman QC FBA
  • Conor Gearty FBA
  • Francesca Klug OBE  

"Everyone across the country should know more about how the rights many take for granted are protected by our Human Rights Act. The executive summary of the British Academy's 'Human rights and the UK constitution' should be essential reading for those learning about human rights in the UK."

– Sadiq Khan, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice (November 2012) 

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