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In order to understand the importance of the Bill of Rights to the constitution, this discussion must begin with the background knowledge that the role of the constitution is to protect human rights, define state responsibilities and functions versus those of its citizens. This fundamental role of the constitution extends to concisely define and outline the structure and operation of the government. This background then outlines the role of the Bill of Rights in making the constitution complete and holistic in effectively executing its legal functions in relation to the ruled and the rulers.
The Bill of Rights is a very important part of any constitution in any state that is conscious of and sensitive to the need to safeguard the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens against abuse. Countries that lack well defined and detailed Bill of Rights entrenched in the constitution is often characterized by anarchy and violence that result from weak legal systems unable to protect the citizens against human rights violation. The role that the Bill of Rights plays in the constitution can therefore not be overemphasized.
The Bill of Rights specifies and declares the political privileges and rights that the citizens are entitled to (Hobson and Marshall 694). This section of the constitution therefore expressly defines the responsibility of the government to its citizens. The Bill of Rights enacts constitutional provisions that guarantee protection of the rights of citizens against abuse either by the government or fellow civilians. It therefore binds the state to protect the rights of its citizens against abuse or any violations.
The role of the Bill of Rights in defining certain immunities and modes of proceeding relating to personal, private and public rights is very critical. According to Hobson and Marshall, the Bill of Rights is important to the constitution since it confers on the citizens inalienable rights and freedoms that would otherwise not be enacted and provided in the constitution and by the state or government (Hobson and Marshall 694). For example, the Bill of Rights confers on the citizens the inalienable right to elect their leaders. It also prohibits any tyrannical measures and vindictive prosecutions (Hobson and Marshall 694). This implies that the Bill of Rights not only safeguards human rights but also defines how the constitutional provisions will be implemented to the benefit of the citizens.
The implementation of the constitutional provisions that safeguard the rights of the state and its citizens against abuse cannot be possible without the entrenchment of the Bill of Rights in the constitution (Alexander and Alexander 88). For example the constitutional provision for dignity rights for its citizens cannot be effectively implemented without the existence of the respective Bill of Rights in the same constitution.
According to Holder and Holder (63), the constitutions without comprehensive Bill of Rights often confer more power to the government over its citizens. This is often used against the citizens that elect the very government. Considering that this government rules on behalf of its citizens, especially in democratic states, the constitution can only be complete with the inclusion of the rights and freedoms of the citizens entrenched in the constitution. This way the government will exercise its power only to an extent that it does not abuse the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens.
The constitution defines the relationship between the government and the citizens. However, this mere definition and provision is not effective and complete without the provisions of the Bill of Rights that clearly and comprehensively defines the rights and responsibilities of the either party. This implies that the interpretation and the implementation of the constitution are only complete and practical with the provision of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens in the constitution. The Bill of Rights fills this gap by outlining the rights f all citizens (Campbell 8-9). Custodianship of the constitutional provisions of the rights of every citizen irrespective of race, age, gender, sexual orientation and status is thus contained in the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights forms the epitome of democracy in the country. Since this is the only part of the constitution that directly connects to the citizens, this part of the constitution acts as a knot that connects the people to the constitution. They are thus able to relate with the constitution at individual levels (Campbell 8). This implies that the existence of the Bill of Rights makes the constitution to be a universal and binding document to all; the government and the governed. This is because the Bill of Rights applies to all law, binding the legislature, executive and judiciary and all the state organs. It is thus the backbone of the constitution.
How Citizens can Protect the Bill of Rights
The existence of the Bill of Rights in the constitution without protection of the same is a very unfortunate state especially to citizens whose fundamental rights and freedoms are entrenched in the constitution (Hobson and Marshall 694-695). The citizens must therefore actively participate and contribute to the protection of the Bill of Rights as entrenched in the constitution. However, this requires an active citizenry that is able to vigilantly monitor the implementation of the constitution in line with the provisions of the Bill of Rights.
In order to protect the Bill of Rights, the citizens must first of all understand what their rights as espoused in the Bill of Rights are and that they can challenge any decision that violates these rights. This means that the citizens must be able relate to the constitution so as to be its custodians. The citizens must censure the legislature against any amendments to the Bill of Rights that seeks to eliminate any provisions of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people (Hobson and Marshall 694). This role can be actively played by interest groups representing the interest and championing the rights of the citizens. The civil society organizations can thus be used by the citizens to protect their rights as outlined in the Bill of Rights.
The citizens must participate either through representative democracy or through signing and voting against any changes in the Bill of Rights. This is because amendments that are effected without the involvement and participation of the citizens often result in the deletions or dilution of the rights and freedoms of the people or the governed while empowering the government (Campbell 8). The citizens can therefore protect the Bill of Rights by forming and joining interest groups that will be used as a watch-dog against any subjective amendments to the Bill of Rights.
The citizens can use the judiciary as a constitutional institution to protect the Bill of Rights against any mutilation (Feldman 74). For example in cases where the fundamental rights and freedoms of any citizen is abused by any arm of the government, such persons should actively use the judiciary to appeal against such violations. A suspect who is not granted the right to an attorney at the time of trial can, for example, appeal with reference to the provisions of the Bill of Rights against such abuse (Campbell 8). A custodial offender interrogated away from the general prison population without warning on his/her Miranda rights must appeal in the Supreme Court against such violations. This will ensure that all the law enforcement agencies strictly adhere to the provisions of the Bill of Rights as outlined in the constitution.
The citizens can protect the Bill of Rights by being united against any violations of any fundamental rights and freedoms. A more radical and vibrant and united citizenry can use the powers of collective bargaining to advocate, through their lobby groups, against any violations of human rights and freedoms, proposed or actual amendment of the constitution that interferes with the provisions of the Bill of Rights. Such collective bargaining and collective voice against abuse of human rights can ensure that the Bill of Rights is safeguarded against any constitutional mutilation by any organ of the state or other agent (Holder and Holder 56).
In countries where democratic principles have been cultivated and embraced, it is easy for the citizens to protect the Bill of Rights. It all begins with democratic election of legislators that value human rights . Besides, the nomination or appointment of law enforcement officers and bodies must be very democratic and based on assured interest and commitment to the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens. This will ensure that the fundamental rights and freedoms as provided in the constitution are not abused or mutilated through amendments of the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights is a very critical part of the constitution as it guarantees the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens. It is important since it makes the constitution complete and joins together the rulers and the ruled on a contractual principle outlining the duties, rights and freedoms of either party. However, for the Bill of Rights to serve its purpose, the citizens must protect it against violation through promotion of a vibrant citizenry and lobbying for the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms as entrenched in the constitution.