General Right to Freedom

Proposal: Any person is free to do anything he or she wishes, with the following exceptions:

(a) He or she must not significantly harm, or seriously risk causing harm to anyone else against that person's will.

(b) He or she must not cause unnecessary suffering to any sentient being

(c) He or she is a minor or by reason of mental incapacity is to have decisions taken on their behalf, and in their best interests

(d) He or she is serving a sentence of imprisonment.


Various rights to freedom of different kinds have been proposed by others, but all of these, and others, can be covered by a single right, which can also be worded to allow for the necessary exceptions which would otherwise make it constitutionally impossible to impose reasonable limits. Remember that if the constitution, for example, allows unfettered freedom of speech, then any law to prohibit libel or the advocacy of violence would be unconstitutional, while some other rights are left unprotected because they have not been specified.

What I propose therefore is that the constitution should state that any person is free to do anything he wishes provided that in doing it he/she does not significantly harm, or seriously risk harming anyone else or causing unnecessary suffering to any sentient being, with exceptions made in the case of people who are mentally incompetent (children or those with certified mental illness) and those whose freedom has been limited by a court following conviction for a criminal offence.

This would cover such things as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of clothing, freedom of religion, and many others, with reasonable exceptions automatically covered in all cases. The definitions of "significant harm", "serious risk" and "unnecessary suffering" are matters for a combination of legislation and case law. The reason for mentioning the latter here is to make animal protection, whether elsewhere in the constitution or in legislation, legally possible, not to define it in detail.

edited on Apr 19, 2015 by JimF

JimF Apr 18, 2015

I think that last revised sentence needs rewording slightly, to say that the freedom so guaranteed does not in all cases apply to ... As worded it only limits the exceptions rather than the rights, which I am sure was not the intention - certainly not mine!

Sorry this is a late comment - I haven't had the opportunity to contribute to phase 2 until this afternoon.

Users tagged:

Imogen Galilee Apr 18, 2015

You're right, woops


Scott Wilson Apr 18, 2015

I'm choosing to vote this down because it uses the language "significantly harm" and "seriously risk causing harm".  This would stop anyone terminating someone's employment, it would stop undertaking medical procedures that go wrong and would possibly stop someone driving.

I would suggest that this should be about rights, not "harm", because people can consent to harm (medical procedures, boxing, BDSM) and risk is covered by common law right to sue for negligence, and criminal coverage of recklessness, which has a great deal of jurisprudence attached to it.  The "unnecessary suffering to any sentient being" creates the obvious risk of uncertainty around the definitions of sentient being, and "unnecessary" in that context.  Some will think experimentation of pharmaceuticals is necessary, some will think cooking live lobsters is not.  In any case, animal rights is included elsewhere.

For humans, suffering is covered by rights.  So I propose...

Any person is free to do anything he or she wishes, as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others to exercise similar freedoms, including the fundamental right to control one's own body and property, with the added constraint that:

- for minors, this freedom and their rights are held in trust by their parents or guardians, who may reasonably limit such freedoms as they see fit;

- for adults who by reason of mental incapacity (either permanent or temporary) have part or all of their affairs subject to the decision of others, this freedom and their rights are held in trust, and may be reasonably limited by such persons as they see fit;

- for those who, by reason of a sentence by court of law, have their freedoms and rights specifically limited, those who monitor, manage and control those freedoms and rights may reasonably limit them further as they see fit.