‘This is Great Britain – the country of Magna Carta. Parliamentary democracy and the fairest courts in the world.’ The speaker, last April, was our new prime minister. Of course that speech was made to make a case for the UK staying in the EU but parting company from the European Convention on Human Rights. Readers of the popular prints may have noticed that, on at least one of those points, the debate has moved on.
May also famously aired her views on European human rights in a 2011 speech to the Conservative party conference, citing ‘the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because, and I am not making this up, he had a pet cat’. It took minutes for the Judicial Office at the Royal Courts of Justice to point out that the case turned on errors made by May’s own Home Office. ‘The cat,’ a spokesperson added, ‘had nothing to do with the decision.’
Obiter waits with interest to see whether the new lord chancellor, co-author (with Michael Gove’s old sidekick Dominic Raab) of a monograph entitled Britannia Unchained, has a better grasp of detail than her boss. Or a better instinct for preserving Magna Carta liberties, such as the general idea – thrown out of the window in May’s Psychoactive Substances Act – that actions are legal until a judge or parliament rules otherwise.