Constitutional rights

With a few exceptions most modern constitutions do include a list of basic rights assigned to every person. Here we want to discuss the purpose of constitutional rights.

First of all, constitutional rights are established to protect citizens against the government. The government is restricted in its actions by these constitutionally enshrined rights. As such the call for a “bill of rights” as part of the constitution, is reaction against the absolute power of the king.

In a civilized society citizen are able to invoke their rights against the government. All actions by the government which violate constitutional rights should be invalid.

A more controversial issue, however, is whether citizens should be able to invoke their constitutional rights against each other. In other words should constitutional rights also apply in cases in which the government is not involved?

Our opinion is that it should. Why should the government not be allowed to violate my rights, but my fellow should be allowed to do so? One cannot really enjoy personal liberty if others are allowed to infringe upon my rights, regardless whether these are related to the government in some way or another.

In civilized jurisdictions, most constitutional rights do apply to inter-citizens relations. Civilized jurisdictions prohibit murder [protection of the right to live], kidnapping [right to liberty], theft [right to property] among others.

Nevertheless, in our opinion the working of constitutional rights should not solely dependent on criminal law. Even if the violation of a particular right is not specifically established as a crime, citizens should have remedies to protect their rights against their fellow citizens.

One way to achieve this is by establishing that the violation of one’ s constitutional rights by another citizen, should always constitute a civil wrong. This solution allows citizens whose rights have been violated, to bring their cases to civil court even in the absence of a criminal prohibition.

Also civil trials have certain benefits over criminal ones. In the latter the main purpose is to punish the perpetrator, while in the former the main focus is on restoration. A person whose rights are violated, will usually not gain much from the mere punishing of the violator.