Samizdata gets the following email:

Dear Mr Micklethwait

I am writing a concise statement of ancient rights as part of a longer publication.

I want to include all the most important Common Law rights: life, liberty, property, family life, fair trial in open court, Habeas Corpus, trial by jury etc.

I cannot find a comprehensive list anywhere. Do you know of one please?


Richard Marsden

I started writing a lengthy comment, but then realized that I've got my own blog! So, let me take a crack at it.

I think that most of our civil rights can be derived from the right to own property -- when you "own" something, you have the right to use it, and the right to exclude others from using it at will. Property rights (and the ownership of our own bodies) can cover almost everything we like as Americans:
- freedom of speech,
- freedom of thought,
- freedom of religion,
- freedom of self-defense,
- freedom to work,
- freedom to trade,
- freedom of association,
- and, in some ways, the right to privacy (though not as it is often believed).

Naturally, my exercise of my rights can interfere with your exercise of yours, and the details need to be worked out. How do we do that?

Criminal law is the system that society has at its disposal when it needs to curtail your civil rights because your exercise of freedom is impinging unacceptably on others. Under commonly recognized principles, the important aspects of criminal law revolve around the understanding that depriving someone of his civil rights is a serious matter, and should not be done lightly or easily. Taking away someone's rights should be be difficult, but civilization has recognized that such power is necessary in order for society to function.

So we've got:
- trial by jury (perhaps the most important),
- the right to be presented to the court (habeas corpus),
- the right to a speedy trial (and the duty to enjoy that right),
- the right to confront the accuser (even in rape cases),
- the right to the presumption of innocence,
- the right to commensurate punishment,
- the right to remain silent and not testify against yourself,
- &c.

Notice, there's no right to vote, although democracy is a good way to protect our rights. All that common law really comes down to is "leave me alone, and I'll return the favor."



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