Human rights in the UK
Catalogue reference: HO 376/109


  [handwritten]
(for the UN Seminar held in Yugoslavia, 1965. PUSS represented the U.K.)
[official crest]

HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
BACKGROUND

Multinational origins of the community
1. The United Kingdom, as befits the founder and leading member of a multi-racial Commonwealth of Nations, is itself a multi-racial and multi-national society. It comprises four distinguishable ethnic groups - English, Welsh, Scots and Irish - each with its own historical traditions and surviving customs, language, culture, even dress. Claims to unique indigenous origins have been largely obscured during the long process of integration but ethnic consciousness and the distinctive symbols of nationality are still cherished. Into this long-established plurality of peoples, national from many other countries have poured from time to time, encouraged by a liberal immigration tradition and driven on by outside pressures. In the Middle Ages Flemish weaver and [handwritten], later, the Huguenots each formed a notable influx, mere decades ago refugees from Nazi persecution came in large numbers to settle. Over the centuries such tides of immigration have been large and not infrequent. Above all they have been highly beneficial to the British community and accepted as such in both the cultural and economic fields by expanding and stimulating the commonwealth of skill and creative talent.

The sources and status of human rights
2. The history of the United Kingdom contains few recorded attempts to extirpate the distinctive identity of any of the four major ethnic groups. For this reason amongst others perhaps, the acknowledgement of human rights has not been based on the defence, or definition, of the rights of subject minorities, but has broadly developed in the spirit of the general British attitude to the law. Human rights in United Kingdom are not based on any fundamental laws specially entrenched, like the constitutions of some countries, against the normal processes of repeal and amendment, nor is the constitution enshrined in a single document. The general body of law is an amalgam of common and statute law and of convention, to be found in a variety of sources and authorities. This code, like the system of government itself, is highly flexible. It can be readily adapted to contemporary public opinion, and to new political, economic and social conditions as and when they arise.
3. This flexibility has engendered confidence in the system of government and in the procedure by which laws are framed and passed, and this in turn has increased respect for the law. In such a climate, enlightened public opinion has been free to show that failure to respect human rights would be contrary to public interest and against the public will. The British people have thus developed an instinctive respect for the individual side by side with respect for the law; they have a tender conscience on the subject of minorities and a tradition of sympathy towards the under-privileged; and they are willing to extend to their fellow men those liberties and freedoms without which they feel that existence would be of small account. The principles derived from this conception of human values have been woven into the British constitution and national way of life. Thus, in law, every individual in the United Kingdom whatever his race, colour, sex, religion, political or other opinion, or national or social origin, has a right to his personal liberty; to access to the courts and the legal remedies available there; to assembly and association for lawful purposes; to practise and propagate his religion; and to reside or move where he will. The British people feel strongly, however, that the vitality of civil liberty is not to be measured only in terms of constitutional guarantees, or court decisions enforcing them; it depends in the last analysis upon the degree to which the public opinion of the nation values civil liberty and demands its effective protection.

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