- Positive Rights
Despite the attraction of natural rights theories, a number of problems arise. It is difficult to prove that a state of nature ever existed, for example, or that rights are derived from God. It is also difficult to work out which rights are natural and which are not. As a result, some political philosophers have abandoned the idea of natural rights altogether in favour of a theory which asserts that the only rights which exist are positive rights granted by a state to its citizens. This avoids the problems in natural rights theories but raises questions about:
- Why citizens should be given rights
- Which rights (if any) they should be given
- How extensive these rights should be
Rights & Liberties in the UK
The development of rights & liberties in the UK
Unlike in the USA & other states, the rights & liberties of British citizens are not set out in a single constitutional document. They are part of the British uncodified constitution. Some of these rights & liberties are the product of custom & convention. Others are contained in written documents, namely Acts of Parliament. British citizens enjoy the following rights & liberties:
- Freedom of movement
- Freedom from arbitrary arrest or unjustified police searches
- Freedom of conscience in matters of religion & politics
- Freedom of expression
- Freedom of association, including the right to protest peacefully
- Social freedoms, such as the right to marry, divorce, procure abortions or enjoy homosexual relations
- The right to vote & to stand for election
- The right to a fair trial
- The right not to be coerced or tortured by agents of the state
- The right not to be subjected to surveillance without due legal process
- The right to own property
- Citizens are individuals who have some sort of legal status within a state – they have been granted certain rights by the state & are expected to perform certain duties
- Some theorists argue that rights are natural (granted by God or nature). Others argue that the only rights that exist are positive rights granted by a state to its citizens.
- In Britain, some rights & liberties are the product of custom & convention and others are granted by acts of Parliament.
- Since the late 1980s,a debate about citizenship has developed because (1) Major’s government promoted ‘active citizenship’; (2) opponents argued that the 1979-97 Conservative governments eroded citizens’ rights; and (3) citizenship is high on New Labour’s agenda.
PART TWO – THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE
The Legal System in the UK
Citizens & the law
A key characteristic of citizenship is that citizens are subject to & protected by the laws of the state. In the UK there are three separate legal systems in operation – one which operates in England & Wales, a second which operates in Scotland, and a third which operates in Northern Ireland. To some extent, therefore, the justice that British citizens have depends on where they live or where they commit their crime. However, all three legal systems distinguish between criminal & civil law.
Criminal law is concerned with behaviour that is disapproved of by the state and has therefore been made illegal by statute. Since criminal offences are regarded as offences against the state, most cases in England & Wales are brought by the Crown Prosecution Service on the state’s behalf. People accused of theft or murder, for example, are tried in criminal courts. Punishment ranges from fines & community service to long-term imprisonment.
Civil law is concerned with the relationships between individuals & groups. It deals with disputes which arise over matters such as the making of contracts or wills, accusations of libel & slander or the custody of children after divorce. Individuals or organisations who lose a case in a civil court are not punished in the same way as in a criminal case. Rather, they are ordered to recompense the other party in some way – for example, by paying damages or handing over the rights to property or the custody of children. Due to their different objectives, the criminal & civil systems operate within different court structures, though these come together at the highest level.
The Legal System in England & Wales
A hierarchical system
The legal system in England & Wales is organised hierarchically. Superior courts hear more serious cases and re-examine, on appeal, cases which were first brought to the lower courts.
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