We asked some of the authors from the Blackstone’s Statutes series to select a piece of legislation from the series that has made the most impact on their subject area.
Alison Bisset: Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
In international human rights law, the instrument that has had most impact must be the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Truly capturing the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights, the UDHR gives equal standing to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Since its adoption in 1948, it has served as the foundation and the springboard for modern international human rights law; continually cited by the UN in its legislative work and operating as the yardstick to which all UN human rights treaties must conform. It has acted as the catalyst for regional human rights treaties, has informed national constitutions and has been cited by international, regional and domestic courts, tribunals and adjudicatory bodies. Although as a Declaration it was non-binding at the time of its conclusion, many of its provisions are now considered to enjoy customary status, creating binding obligations even for states not parties to the major human rights treaties. The UDHR holds the Guinness World Record for the most translated document. It is translated into more than 300 languages and dialects, from Abkhaz to Zulu. Its provisions have stood the test of time and are as relevant today as they were in 1948. The UDHR remains “a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations”, making it the most significant international human rights law instrument.
Alison Bisset is the Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law at the University of Reading, and the author of Blackstone’s International Human Rights Documents, Ninth Edition).
Robert Lee: European Communities Act 1972
In the run up to a referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union, it is timely to review the workings of the European Communities Act 1972; the vehicle by which the U.K.’s accession to the E.U. was accepted by Parliament. In A White Paper of 1971 Prime Minister Heath stated that ‘there is no question of Britain losing essential sovereignty.’
Nowhere in the Act is there any direct mention of Parliament ceding its sovereignty. However, section 2(2) of the Act allows the Government to lay regulations before Parliament to implement required changes to UK law. Section 2(4) states that UK legislation should be construed “subject to” the foregoing provisions of the section. This includes section 2(1) which states that all obligations arising by or under the European Treaties are without further enactment to be given effect. Finally in section 3(1) requires that questions of the meaning or effect of the Treaties is a matter of law to be determined in accordance with the decisions of the European Court.
By the time of British entry there was a decision of the European Court (Costa V ENEL  ECR 585) establishing the supremacy of E.U. law over domestic law of the member states. Later in the case of Factortame  1 AC 603, these provisions were said to create an implied clause rendering all domestic law inapplicable to the extent of any conflict with E.U. law. Lord Bridge stated that it had ‘always been clear’ that this was required under the 1972 Act. But when the Act was passed few would have realised that its effect was to bind Parliament in the future from repealing the Act impliedly.
So, in its oblique terms, the 1972 Act sowed the seeds of a dissatisfaction that has never quite dissipated and which form no small part in the political pressure for a referendum on membership.
Robert Lee is the Head of Birmingham Law School and Director of Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research at the University of Birmingham, and the author of Blackstone’s Statutes on Public Law and Human Rights 2015-2016.
Anne Morris: The Mental Capacity Act 2005
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 (in force, England and Wales, 2007), was hailed as a ground breaking piece of legislation. Many years in preparation, its purpose was to put on a statutory footing common law principles on decision-making for adults who lacked the mental capacity to make their own choices. It was meant to protect but also, wherever possible, to empower vulnerable adults. It covers all aspects of life, including not just medical treatment, but also, for example, where and with whom a person lives. Besides providing a statutory test for capacity, the Act lays down five key principles. The first of these is that every adult has the right to make his or her own decisions (wise or unwise) and must be presumed to have capacity to do so. Only if a person is shown to lack capacity may a decision be made on his behalf, in his best interests. The importance of the Act is reflected in the amount of case law it generates and in the on-going criticisms of its operation. In 2014 a Select Committee Report by the House of Lords described it as a “visionary piece of legislation”, but also noted that it has “suffered from a lack of awareness and a lack of understanding”. As a result, various proposals for reform have been made and the Act will continue to be a focus for attention for some time to come.
Anne Morris is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool, and is the co-author of Blackstone’s Statutes on Medical Law.
Meryl Thomas: Law of Property Act 1925
The Law of Property Act 1925 was one of seven property statutes introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century by the Lord Chancellor Lord Birkenhead. It was part of a package of reform of land law that was begun in 1906 by the then Liberal government, and its importance lies in the fact that it largely represents a break with the previous system of land law whose concepts and ideas were rooted in the medieval feudal system. The statute met with much opposition both political and practical, and is a highly technical statute, containing 209 sections and seven schedules. Nevertheless it is a testament to the proponents of the Act that, despite being amended on a number of occasions, it remains the foundation upon which modern day land law is based.
The aim of the Act was two-fold, firstly it aimed to protect the position of the purchaser, and secondly, in order to achieve the first, the Act simplified the conveyancing process. The key to this simplification was to reduce the number of legal estate that could exist to two, namely the leasehold and the freehold, and to distinguish between ‘family’ interests and those of a commercial nature. The law introduced changes which made it easier for a purchaser to purchase the land free of the former.
Meryl Thomas is a lecturer at Truman Bodden Law School in the Cayman Islands, and the author of Blackstone’s Statutes on Property Law 2015-2016.
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