Write My Rights – UK Versus Canada

Have you ever been in, or thought of being in, a situation where you are faced with a police officer or public authority, and wondered what you are supposed to do? Or more importantly, what they can and cannot do? It’s not an uncommon thought; there are many circumstances in which police can approach you. For example, as drivers, there are a multitude of reasons for being pulled over, or as a minority or person of colour, there’s an increased chance of being approached.

As a Canadian, I was taught of my rights in high school as they were readily available in a document known as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This document emanates from the Canadian Constitution. It outlines fundamental freedoms, democratic rights, and most importantly to this post, legal rights. The legal rights provided by the Charter pertaining to the subject of arrest or approach by a police officer include the right of security against unreasonable search or seizure, the right to not be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned, the right to be informed of the reasons for an arrest and to retain and instruct counsel (and to be informed of that right) and to have validity of the detention determined by habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is deemed unlawful.[1] These are just a few examples, more of these rights and freedoms can be found at: https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/const/page-12.html.

Point being, in Canada, when or if arrested, you have easy access to extensive information about your rights and freedoms. You can properly ensure that no miscarriages of justice are carried out during your arrest or attempt of arrest. Students are taught these rights as early as high school to ensure that they are well informed of their rights and can put them to proper use should they ever be in such a predicament. But what about the UK?

The most popular fact of the UK constitution is that it is uncodified – meaning it is largely unwritten. It has many different sources in different places, unlike countries like Canada which have a written, codified document named the Constitution. There are many arguments for and against the codification of the UK constitution that have been put forth by legal scholars for many years. This post is by no means going to delve into all of the arguments – but I will place importance on the codification of a proper Bill of Rights to ensure that UK citizens are provided with the same benefits that Canadians are from the Charter. When or if a UK citizen is in a situation where they need to access immediate information about their rights and freedoms, where do they go? Article 5 of the Human Rights Act 1998 outlines similar features to that of the legal rights under the Charter – but how accessible is this to citizens? How informed are students in schools made of this provision under the HRA 1998? The HRA was also not written by the UK, it was not created and tailored to the needs and rights of UK citizens. If the UK had a written constitution and made a Bill of Rights part of their constitution, like the Charter in Canada, these rights would be more readily accessible and tailored to its citizens to allow them to be informed of all their rights in any situation, rather than having to dig through different statutes or common law precedent.

Therefore, it is important that the UK apply resources in attempting to create its own Charter and place value on codifying the rights and freedoms of its citizens in an easily accessible document.


[1] Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s.8 Part 1 of the Constitution Act 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK) c 11

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