Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Passarelle clauses, Prerogative writs and history - the erosion thereof

Nelson Mandela, that ever glowing beacon of light of human altruism (it is hush-hush to mention that Nelson Mandela was the leader for the ANC's armed faction the MK or the Spear of the Nation), said in his opening speech of his trial in April 1964 that he was a great admirer of the parliamentary system of western governments. He went on to expose his even greater admiration for some of the British milestone documents upon which most western democracies' freedoms are derived from: "The Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights and the Bill of Rights are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world. I have great respect for British political institutions and for the country's system of justice."

Poor old Mandela, I fancy that he does not know that the majority of "British political institutions" ceased to deliver anything even remotely democratic a long time ago. But lets not dwell on the present we must go back to the beginning for a tad of freedom (this is paradox in itself but I am sure you spotted that one).

The first pivotal document that came into being was introduced in 1215 and it is, as you all know, the Magna Carta Libertatum (Great Charter of Freedoms). In 1215, king John, faced with the possibility of revolt and civil war, agreed to the demands of his Barons and granted the Magna Carta. It was re-issued in 1216, 1217, and again in 1225 with certain revisions. The Magna Carta was the first document of its kind in that it bound not only the king's subjects, but the king and all of his heirs as well, to the laws of the land. Thus, making no man above the law. Most notably though was that the Magna Carta enshrined the writ of habeas corpus - allowing appeal against unlawful imprisonment. You can be quite sure than Brown and his cretins have made it their goal the unlearn any Latin word they ever stumbled upon (which technically involves large chunks of the English language so they should really not have such a hard time to coming to grips with this writ.)

"Aha" you may think, "now all our human rights have been fulfilled" - far from it. It would take another 434 years before another landmark document was broadcasted by the folks on this tiny spec of land.

The Death Warrant of Charles I was published in 1649. We will have to quick forward a bit to get to the juicy parts (well, 'part' is more correct): the beheading.Civil war broke out in 1642. At first, Charles's Royalist forces had the upper hand, with further promise of support from the Irish Catholic Confederation, which was fighting Parliamentarian forces in Ireland. But then the shit hit then fan and at the battles of Naseby and Langport in June and July 1645, the first showing of the Parliamentarian New Model Army under Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, the Royalists suffered major losses. Charles I's surrender in May 1646 concluded the first phase of the civil war, though he rejected all proposals intended to bring a peace. However, he did reach a secret agreement with the Scots regarding Presbyterianism in England, which incensed the English Parliament.

The sequel is a bit of a bitch though for poor old Charles you see the Civil War reached the end of its next phase with Charles's trial. The charges against him were noted in a special Act of Parliament, namely that he "had a wicked design totally to subvert the ancient and fundamental laws and liberties of this nation", and that he had "levied and maintained a civil war in the land." The latter was the equivalent of treason and of it went chop-chop-chop. No head no more. What is interesting though is that New Labour has been waging a civil war as well, not with weapons, but with acts of parliaments and laws - designed to protect us but are now used against us under aegis of "national security". Brown and Blair should start doing their history for if there is one thing about history it is that it infallibly, invariably and consistently repeats itself.

How about it then, did Chuckle Cromwell the Dashing give us all we need to dive headlong into the 21st century as the Computer age dawned before our eyes? No. The wankers had us wait another 40 years before they came up with something that us, the plebeian, could use for our daily undertaking.

The Bill of Rights. The Act described the abuses of power of King James II that led to his departure, and defined the agreement between Parliament and William of Orange if he was to be king. When William and his wife Mary were crowned in 1689, they took an oath to rule according to the "statutes in Parliament agreed upon, and the laws and customs of the same." Previous coronation oaths had merely said that the new king would adhere to the laws and customs of earlier kings. This is very important, wording.

The EU for example loves wording, they love it so much that they have invented new words to hide the underlying message of their documents. For example they have a clause know as a Passerelle Clause or a Escalator Clause that allows the European Council to decide unanimously to replace unanimous voting in the Council of Ministers with qualified majority voting (QMV) in specified areas. Well that democratic, innit? But back to the past.

From Wikipedia:

The Bill of Rights laid out certain basic tenets for, at the time, all Englishmen. These rights continue to apply today, not only in England, but in each of the jurisdictions of the Commonwealth realms as well. The people, embodied in the parliament, are granted immutable civil and political rights through the act, including:

* Freedom from royal interference with the law. Though the sovereign remains the fount of justice, he or she cannot unilaterally establish new courts or act as a judge.
* Freedom from taxation by Royal Prerogative. The agreement of parliament became necessary for the implementation of any new taxes.
* Freedom to petition the monarch.
* Freedom from the standing army during a time of peace. The agreement of parliament became necessary before the army could be moved against the populace when not at war.
* Freedom for Protestants to bear arms for their own defence, as suitable to their class and as allowed by law.
* Freedom to elect members of parliament without interference from the sovereign.
* Freedom of speech and debates; or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament. This means that freedom of speech for all, and the proceedings of parliament can not be questioned in a court of law or any other body outside of parliament itself; this forms the basis of modern parliamentary privilege [1688 Commonwealth Bill of Rights ].
* Freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, as well as excessive bail.
* Freedom from fine and forfeiture without a trial.

Certain acts of James II were also specifically named and declared illegal by the Bill of Rights, while James' flight from England in the wake of the Glorious Revolution was also declared to be an abdication of the throne.


But surely now we must be able to go to court and not get screwed over by the judges in their fancy wigs? Well, maybe, possibly, perhaps but no. There is a fairly boring act called the Articles of Union, 1707, it basically said that 1+1 = 1. Where the two '1's are England and Scotland. It is a landmark document in itself but it is really quite boring so if you are really interested google it. I shall focus on the last act which is much more interesting.

The Reform Act of 1832

“We must get the suffrage, we must get votes, that we may send the men to Parliament who will do our work for us; …and we must have the country divided so that the little kings of the counties can't do as they like, but must be shaken up in one bag with us.”
said a working class reformist in George Eliot’s novel Felix Holt: the Radical. That is pretty damn well what happened. The quote stated above is an almost criminal simplification of what happened (but that should suit New Labour taste quite well) as a result of the Great Reform Act, it is quite much more detailed.

The critical point is, this is where the final piece of the democracy puzzle is laid, almost anyway. It is not a nice puzzle, it is full of scratches and minor gaps, but if you stand back, not too far away but not too close either, you can see the whole picture quite vividly - it is beautiful picture quite spectacular indeed.

600 years until suffrage was granted (another 100 years or so before universal suffrage was granted), 600 years for liberty, democracy and human rights to get a proper foot hold - you would have thought that our great leaders of Britain today would have some respect for this astonishing history and engulf the time span.

One would have thought...

Blair and Brown have repaid in kind to English, Scottish, Welsh and British history by introducing 60 new powers contained in more than 25 Acts of Parliament. That have whittled away freedoms and broken pledges set out in the Human Rights Act and Magna Carta, according to a an audit of laws introduced since New Labour came to power in 1997.

Three cheers for the anti-British-grooms, they live; hipp-hipp hurray, hipp-hipp hurray, hipp-hipp hurray! May their acts and legacy never be forgotten.

No comments: