The British Human Rights Regime: between universalism and parliamentary sovereignty

Wolfsteller, René (2018) The British Human Rights Regime: between universalism and parliamentary sovereignty. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In the contemporary political world order that continues to be structured by the principle of national sovereignty, states remain the most important instrument for the delivery of rights. If we want to understand how human rights can be realized in practice, we therefore have to study the conditions and processes of their institutionalization on the state level.

While the United Kingdom was relatively slow, compared to other western European democracies, in the domestic institutionalization of international human rights norms and standards, governments in Britain have between 1998 and 2008 created a complex human rights regime that still awaits a comprehensive analysis and assessment. This thesis fills that gap. Focusing on the Human Rights Act as the legal centerpiece, the Joint Committee on Human Rights as the parliamentary scrutiny body, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission for Great Britain as the largest human rights commission, this thesis examines the extent to which the British Human Rights Regime has contributed to the institutionalization of human rights in the UK. To that end, it develops and deploys the sociological ideal type of the human rights state as a qualitative analytical framework and as an external benchmark that is able to integrate the legal, political, and wider societal dimensions of effective human rights institutionalization.

Based on the thematic analysis of case law, official documents and elite interviews with public officials, this thesis argues that the Human Rights Act, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have contributed to a significant institutional change in the domestic recognition and protection of human rights. They have introduced new rights norms and safeguards into British law, established new mechanisms for judicial and political rights review, and brought about important legislative and policy changes. Yet, their efficacy suffers from structural limitations that have been imposed so as not to fundamentally disturb the concentration of political power in the executive which is preserved by the constitutional doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. In
the Westminster system of parliamentary government, this doctrine continues to allow the executive to dominate the legislative process without strong constitutional human rights safeguards that would be domestically enforceable against primary legislation. While the preservation of parliamentary sovereignty was a key political requirement that enabled progress to the present state of domestic human rights institutionalization, it also prevents the sustainable entrenchment of human rights as fundamental and universally binding norms for the legitimate exercise of all juridical, legislative and executive state power, thereby leaving the British Human Rights Regime at permanent risk of abolishment or degradation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: human rights, United Kingdom, institutionalization, Human Rights Act, Equality and Human Rights Commission, Joint Committee on Human Rights, human rights state, parliamentary sovereignty, constitutionalism, British human rights regime.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)
J Political Science > JX International law
K Law > K Law (General)
K Law > KD England and Wales
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Kollman, Dr. Kelly and Waites, Dr. Matthew
Date of Award: 2018
Embargo Date: 18 October 2021
Depositing User: Mr René Wolfsteller
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-30926
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2018 15:23
Last Modified: 11 Aug 2022 10:02
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.30926

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