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How is the judiciary able to protect Civil Liberties in the UK?
Civil liberties, the freedom and rights enjoyed by the citizens guaranteed by the state.
Codified civil liberties were only introduced when the Human Rights Act, 1998, was implemented.
Before this there was no specific statement of what civil liberties were. Citizens' exercise of
freedom was drawn from documents such as the Magna Carta of 1215 and they basically had full
freedom up to the extent that the law limited it. The sovereignty of Parliament was also a main
reason for there not ever being written civil liberties. All this started to change.
The Human Rights Act was introduced in 1998 stating that all legislation, actions and decisions
made by the government, regional parliament on any other organisation to a similar nature had to
conform to the listed rights of all citizens or the courts could strike the organisation down if
successfully challenged. This act has given the judiciary a codified set of rights upon which to judge
whether executive and legislative action threatens civil liberties. It is a key weapon available to
judges. However, the act is not binding on Parliament and the sovereignty of Parliament means that
judges are forced to accept legislation made at Westminster but the act is still a codified version of
basic, statuary rights which protect civil liberties.
Another way in which the judiciary is able to protect civil liberties is through its
independence. The independence of the judiciary is an essential feature of any healthy democracy. If
judges were not independent there would be a danger that the government would exceed its
powers without legal justification. Citizens also need to feel certain that any legal case which they
may be involved in will be based on the justice of the law rather than in a discriminative way which
may suit government for its own benefit. The independence also ensures that judges are selected on
a neutral basis to prevent secret understanding between the judiciary and government. On the other
hand, it could be argued this independence is a bad thing as the judges are neither elected nor
accountable and so lack democratic legitimacy. The government can also amend the law where
judges are believed to be obstructing government forcing them to comply with government wishes.
However the independence that the judiciary does hold ensures civil liberties are protected even
under these terms.
Judicial review is also a main part of judges being able to protect civil liberties. It is the
process where the courts review decisions by the state or any public body in relation to its citizens.
The main point of the review is to ensure that if it is found that a citizen has not been treated fairly, or
that their rights have been abused, or that a public body has exercised its legal powers too far, the
court may set the decision aside. This enables citizens to have the right to be re-trialled if it can
legally be proven that they have been miss- judged but judges do not have the power to undertake
`pre-legislative review' this is that they cannot take positive action to influence legislation before it
is presented to Parliament. Although this is a weakness, judicial review is still active hence protecting
citizens' civil liberties.
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As well as all the already mentioned points there is also a more recent protection to civil
liberties. The new Supreme Court is showing signs of being more independent that the House of
Lords. The significance of this is that it will provide better clarity to the UK's constitutional
arrangements by further distancing the judiciary from legislation. This hence improves the protection
of civil liberties for citizens of the UK.…read more