A critical appraisal of the Government's
'Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission'

The 2019 Conservative Party election manifesto and subsequent Queen’s speech outlined the current Government’s promises to establish a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission (‘the Commission’).

Proponents of the Commission stress the need to restore public trust in our institutions following the polarisation of politics in the aftermath of the Brexit vote and the constitutional tensions which arose between government, parliament and the courts in the lead up to the 2019 general election. They argue that review of the UK constitution’s fundamentals is necessary to foreground any future reform which will purportedly update the Human Rights Act, rebalance judicial review and national security interests, and recalibrate the relationship between executive, parliament and the courts. Opponents counter that reform is not necessary - that the exceptional polarisation in British politics present before the 2019 general election has been replaced by the resumption of single-party majority rule which is able to deliver Brexit largely unimpeded, and that any exceptional period in politics should not be relied upon as justification for such generalised and wide-ranging reform.

Critics additionally question whether there is sufficient evidence to conclude that judicial review and the Human Rights Act are manipulated and abused in the manner alleged. Concerns are also raised regarding the individuals charged with setting the political leadership of the Commission, with anonymous No.10 sources briefing journalists as to the ‘shocking influence of lawyers on policy’; Attorney-General Suella Braverman’s declaration that politicians need to ‘take back control from the judiciary’; and Dominic Cummings, Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, explaining the ‘need to get the judges sorted’.

This wide-ranging discussion will critically discuss, inter alia, the nature and necessity of the potential reforms which are being proposed; the impact of Covid-19 on plans for future constitutional reform; and the politics of how broader constitutional reform is discussed in the UK.



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Michael Olatokun leads the Bingham Centre's strategic area of focus on Citizenship and the Rule of Law and is the Head of Public and Youth Engagement. He is the lead instructor of 'Citizenship and the Rule of Law', an online undergraduate law course run by BIICL in collaboration with the University of London. He is also the Coordinator of 'The Rule of Law for Citizenship Education', a nationwide programme in which young people are taught about the rule of law and human rights. Read more about his work here.

Michael Olatokun, Research Fellow in Citizenship and the Rule of Law; Head of Public and Youth Engagement, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law

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Professor Alison Young is the Sir David Williams Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Robinson College. She currently co-edits the UKCLA blog on constitutional law and is a trustee of The Constitution Society. Her research interests encompass all aspects of UK and EU public law, including constitutional theory and examining different means of protecting human rights. She recently jointly edited with Professor Mark Elliot and Jack Williams The UK Constitution after Miller: Brexit and Beyond. You can read more about Professor Young's work and research interests here.

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Dr Sam Fowles is a barrister at Cornerstone Barristers. He has appeared in many of the recent leading public law cases including Gina Miller v The Prime Minister [2019] UKSC 41 and The Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party v ITV [2019] EWHC 3282 (Admin). Sam is a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Centre. You can read more about his work here.   Dr Sam Fowles, Barrister, Cornerstone Barristers; Fellow, Foreign Policy Centre.

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Meg Russell is Professor of British and Comparative Politics and Director of the Constitution Unit. She first began at UCL as a Senior Research Fellow at the Constitution Unit in August 1998. She leads the Unit's research work on parliament, and is currently a Senior Fellow with the ESRC-funded UK in a Changing Europe programme. Meg is particularly known for her work on the British House of Lords, bicameralism, and parliamentary policy influence. She has also conducted recent work on referendums, devolution, and citizens' assemblies. In the past she has written on topics including political party organisation, candidate selection, women's representation in politics and political psychology.