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Your rights as set out by the Constitution
The Constitution is the supreme law. This means that all laws passed by Parliament must be in keeping with it. It sets out the basic structure of the State and how each arm of the State relates to the other arms. It also sets out some of the important powers of key office holders and bodies.
The Constitution also, very importantly, sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. These are rights which all citizens are entitled to and which are protected. In our Constitution, sections 4 and 5 provide that these rights exist without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex. Among the rights and freedoms protected are:
• The right of an individual to life, liberty, security of the person and the enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived of these except by the due process of law
• The right to equality before the law and the protection of the law
• The right to respect for your private and family life
• The right to equality of treatment by public bodies
• The right to join political parties and express political views
• The right of a parent or guardian to provide a school of his or her own choice for the education of a child or ward
• Freedom of movement
• Freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance (this includes the right not to follow a religion or religious belief)
• Freedom of thought and expression
• Freedom of association and assembly
• Freedom of the press.
Generally, Parliament (unless it follows certain steps set out in the Constitution) may not pass any law which:
• Allows the arbitrary detention, imprisonment or exile of any person
• Imposes cruel and unusual punishment on someone
• Deprives an arrested or detained person the right to be informed of the reason for his arrest or detention, the right to retain a legal adviser, the right to be brought promptly before a court or the remedy of habeas corpus
• Allows a person to incriminate himself without legal protection
• Deprives a person of the right to a fair hearing
• Deprives a person of the right to be presumed innocent, to a fair and impartial public hearing, to reasonable bail without just cause
• Deprives a person of the right to an interpreter
• Deprives a person of the right to any procedural provisions to give effect to these rights and freedoms.
In certain instances these rights are limited. They are subject to the rights of other individuals, emergency powers of the State, and laws that existed at the time the constitution was developed. Next week we will look at some of these instances and how you can obtain redress if the State breaches any of your constitutional rights. This column is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should consult a legal adviser.
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