The UK has a long history of the Supreme Court aligning with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rulings. However, since the Brexit vote, there has been a growing dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court’s decisions. The issue is not just about the Court’s legal interpretations but rather its sovereignty. Many progressive thinkers argue that the Court should have the power to operate beyond the traditional boundaries of interpreting and administering the law. They believe that the Supreme Court should be able to challenge government decisions that violate civil liberties or human rights.
We argue that when the Supreme Court attempts to block legislation, it goes beyond its judicial role and infringes on the sovereignty of the Parliament and, by extension, the people’s will. The Court’s primary responsibility is to interpret and apply the law, not to make or unmake it. We also argue that when the Court starts to operate beyond its legal jurisdiction, it undermines the democratic principle of separation of powers fundamental to the UK’s constitutional framework.
The current situation we find ourselves in cannot be attributed solely to the decisions made by the Supreme Court. While the Court has shaped the legal landscape, Parliament must also share the responsibility for the current state of affairs. Over several decades, Parliament has placed excessive faith in progressive and liberal ideologies, leading to a lack of balance in policymaking. The government has relied too heavily on supranational institutions to administer the country, which, fortunately, have yet to be able to shift fiscal and monetary responsibility away from the Nation. However, this overreliance on external entities has resulted in a lack of accountability and transparency in the government’s decision-making processes. As a result, the country faces several challenges, including economic instability, social unrest, and political polarisation.
These challenges could have been avoided if the government had not undermined its parliamentary sovereignty and taken a more self-reliant approach that prioritised the interests of its people over external entities or abstract universalism. It is essential to recognise that the responsibility for the current situation lies not with one institution or decision but with a complex set of factors.
Some may not know that the ECHR is not part of the European Union. It is a body of the Council of Europe (CoE). The CoE is an international organisation founded shortly after the Second World War. It was established to uphold the commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Some argue that these commitments were essential to prevent the human suffering seen during WW2. However, while this is partly true, it was also a bulwark against communism, particularly Stalanism, from spreading across Europe.
The Council of Europe is composed of two critical statutory bodies: the Committee of Ministers, which is comprised of the foreign ministers of each member state, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which consists of members of the national parliaments of each member state. In addition, the Council of Europe has a Commissioner for Human Rights, whose role is to promote awareness of and respect for human rights within the member states. The secretary-general is the head of the organisation’s secretariat. The Council of Europe also has other essential bodies, such as the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & HealthCare (EDQM) and the European Audiovisual Observatory, significantly advancing the organisation’s mission.
The information presented leads us to conclude that the ECHR only holds authority due to the agreement between member states. This agreement was established many years ago through the commitments made by our Parliament. As a result, previous governments have constrained future governments by binding them to a legal framework that threatens our parliamentary sovereignty. Unless the current government is willing to use its authority to repeal these treaties, the constraints will remain in place, and we will continue to be subject to the ECHR’s authority.
This follows a pattern of other decisions taken over the decades, for example:
The devolution of power to bodies like the Scottish Parliament and Senedd Cymru.
The Human Rights Act 1998.
The UK’s entry to the European Union in 1973 – and subsequent exit in 2020.
The decision to establish a UK Supreme Court in 2009 ended the House of Lords’ function as the UK’s final Court of Appeal.
The liberal progressives argue that these developments do not fundamentally undermine the principle of parliamentary sovereignty since, in theory, Parliament could repeal any of the laws implementing these changes.
We must be able to see the people’s will being executed, and this requires a government that is genuinely committed to acting in the Nation’s best interests. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with the political games often played at our expense, and many of us consider them a grave insult. If the government fails to utilise the powers and responsibilities entrusted to it by the people and does not fulfil its moral obligation to act in the Nation’s interest, then we are left with very few options. The consequences of such incompetence or neglect can be devastating, and it is something that we cannot afford to overlook. We must demand accountability and transparency from our leaders to ensure they act on our behalf and with the Nation’s best interests in mind.