A tinge of green in our Bill of Rights?

17 August 2012 by

Amidst the root and branch opposition to socio-economic rights from some quarters, the idea that the Bill of Rights might contain an environmental right seems to have got lost in the smoke of this rather unedifying battle. The July 2012 Consultation on a Bill of Rights summarises the rival contentions well – see below.

I am ducking well away from the underlying question – should there be a Bill of Rights at all? – but support the proposition that, if there is to be such a Bill, it should contain some provision about the environment. Answers on a postcard to the Commission by 30 September, please, whether you agree or disagree with me, but in the interim, here is my penn’orth.

The Consultation Paper put it this way.

  1. Proponents argue that any UK Bill of Rights ought to contain environmental rights. They argue that the increasing awareness of the risks associated with an unsustainable environment, and the importance of environmental protection, support the inclusion of such rights. They point to the many links between the protection of human rights and the protection of the environment in international treaties and to the fact that a number of countries, including South Africa, have afforded constitutional protection to environmental rights.
  2. Others, however, consider the range of existing statutory measures in respect of environmental protection to be sufficient. They question, as with socio-economic rights more generally, how such rights would be enforced given that issues of environmental protection involve policy and resource questions about the allocation of resources and political judgements that many consider should be for elected legislators and not for courts to decide.

Now, for me.

It would be ludicrous for a twenty-first century rights instrument not to say something about environmental rights/values, if the purpose of the Bill of Rights is to summarise shortly British values. If nothing is said, some bright spark will argue in due course that environmental values are to be subordinated to other values which have made it into the canon. Looking positively, an environmental right should say two things.

The first is to reinforce the ECHR environmental protections provided by Articles 2 (right to life) and  8 (right to home life) aimed at the individual and which have been recognised over the last 20 years or so in Strasbourg cases – bad pollution can affect your health and your family life.

The second is some recognition that the environment involves wider values than any “me, me, me, now” right recognises. This is not to be found in the Strasbourg cases. It may be unrealistic to expect our legislature (of whichever political hue) to give trees rights, but a right for the benefit of present and future generations to have measures to promote conservation, for instance, would amount to a modest proposal in the right direction. Indeed, why not simply adopt Article 24 of the South African Constitution, helpfully set out in the Consultation Paper:

Everyone has the right

(a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and

(b) to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that

(i)  prevent pollution and ecological degradation

(ii)  promote conservation; and

(iii)  secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

This is not arrogating to the courts some sharp-edged way of striking down swathes of legislative or executive action. Rather it should be a quiet but persistent reminder to Parliament and Whitehall that selfishness and proprietary ownership should not be the be-all and end-all of government policy, and that other values must be reflected in the decision-making processes within the sorts of government we ought to have. At very least, UK humans alive today ought to think about the environmental position which might confront their descendants – and I would hope that most of us would broaden that consideration to other species and the earth generally. Only the most full-blooded libertarian could possibly find offence with that, surely? So why not say it out loud?

Sign up to free human rights updates by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS

Read more:


  1. The UK has a legal obligation under International and EU law to enable rights protection to the environment. Its a issue of great debate whether our existing instruments are sufficient, I disagree, it is more like trying to fit a square peg into around hole. However, if we were to establish a Bil of Rights, it would be near criminal not to explicitly refer to environmental rights. Rights are not the same as regulations, they can be assumed or intended, either way, the past 20 years has shown the necessity to control mans development over natural resources, to ignore this, would be of huge detriment to the environment and to democracy.

  2. Stephen says:

    Great idea! One small addition to a Bill of Rights. One giant leap for mankind.

    Perhaps rights that are currently qualified by the “public interest” could be further qualified to say “in the pubic interest or in the interests of environmental protection” ?

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus coronavirus act 2020 costs costs budgets Court of Protection covid crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania round-up Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: