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University 18 Yrs + | Constitutional Change

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New Labour and Human Rights

The Human Rights Act, 1998 adopted the European Convention of Human Rights as British Law an created a comprehensive set of rights for the first time.

The European Convention was drawn up after the war by Western European countries who were members of the Council of Europe after the experience of Nazi occupation.

Britain signed in 1951 and in the 1960s British citizens were able to take cases to the European Court of Human Rights at The Hague. Decisions were not binding in British law but the Government would often adjust legislation to take account of European Court decisions.

British judges could now apply the Human Rights Act to cases coming before them. Parliamentary Sovereignty was preserved in theory as British judges could not strike out Acts of Parliament that were incompatible with the Human Rights Act but instead issue a declaration of incompatibility and then Parliament could quickly look to see if existing statutes should be amended.

There is a debate as to whether, in practice, there has been a significance shift in power from Parliament to the Judiciary.