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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is the MoJ dishonest or disingenuous on prisoners votes?

Is the MoJ dishonest or disingenuous on prisoners votes?

I am not sure whether the Ministry of Justice is being disingenuous with the publication of this..."Responding to human rights judgments Government Response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ Fifteenth Report of Session 2009-10 Presented to Parliament by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice by Command of Her Majesty July 2010 Cm 7892"? Or, whether the MoJ is being outright dishonest?

As the Report states:

"European Court of Human Rights judgments

The United Kingdom is obliged to implement judgments of the European Court of Human Rights under Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). The implementation – or “execution”, as it is described in the Convention – of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights is overseen by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. This responsibility also results from Article 46".

The Association of Prisoners is presently the Prisoners Voice, and Prisoners Families Voices is the voice of the families of prisoners. Both organisations are joined in the condemnation of the previous government and the present government for thier failure to abide by the ECtHR decision in Hirst v UK (No2) the Prisoners Votes Case.

It's all about doing the right thing. The previous government had argued that prisoners had breached the social contrct, therefore they should be denied the franchise. The ECtHR rejected this line of argument. In any event, the UK has failed to abide by its contract with the Council of Europe to abide by the European Convention and ECtHR decisions. If this is not gross hypocrisy I do not know what is!

Just as bad in my eyes is the namby pamby approach taken by the JCHR. It should call a spade a spade! It is no good sweet talking a government which is being obstinate. The JCHR needs to be abandoned or given more powers of enforcement! Bear in mind that in Kenya a court ruled prisoners should have the vote and 3 days later the Electoral Commission was registering prisoners to vote! Why has the UK taken 5 years? It is time not only that the government implemented the Court judgment in Hirst No2 but also gave the public, the media and Parliament a truthful explanation for the inordinate delay!

"Prisoners’ voting rights (Hirst v UK; Smith v Electoral Registration Officer)
The European Court of Human Rights found29 that the United Kingdom’s prohibition on all convicted serving prisoners from voting breached Article 3 of the First Protocol (right to free elections).

The previous Government conducted a two stage consultation on how to approach the matter, and in the second consultation document proposed possible options for implementation based on sentence length. That consultation closed in September 2009 but the results were not published.

The JCHR said:

We are concerned that, despite the time taken to publish the second consultation, the Government’s proposals appear to take a very limited approach to the judgment in Hirst. As we noted earlier in this report, this type of approach can lead to further unnecessary litigation with the associated burden on the European Court of Human Rights and the taxpayer. We accept that the Grand Chamber left a broad discretion to the United Kingdom to determine how to remove the blanket ban. However, the Court stressed that withdrawal of the franchise is a very serious step and gave guidance on the types of offences which might rationally be connected with such a step. We are not persuaded that automatic disenfranchisement based upon a set period of custodial sentence can provide the “discernible link between the conduct and circumstances of the individual” and necessity for the removal of the right to vote required by the Grand Chamber. In our view, this approach will lead to a significant risk of further litigation.

Despite our concerns about the narrow nature of the Government’s approach, our overriding disappointment is at the lack of progress in this case. We regret that the Government has not yet published the outcome of its second consultation, which closed almost 6 months ago, in September 2009. This appears to show a lack of commitment on the part of the Government to proposing a solution for Parliament to consider.

It is now almost 5 years since the judgment of the Grand Chamber in Hirst v UK. The Government consultation was finally completed in September 2009. Since then, despite the imminent general election, the Government has not brought forward proposals for consideration by Parliament. We reiterate our view, often repeated, that the delay in this case has been unacceptable. (Paragraph 116)
So long as the Government continues to delay removal of the blanket ban on prisoner voting, it risks not only political embarrassment at the Council of Europe, but also the potentially significant cost of repeat litigation and any associated compensation.

29 Hirst v United Kingdom (No. 2), Application 74025/01, judgment of 6 October 2005; see also Smith v Scott [2007] CSIH 9.22

Responding to human rights judgments

The Government’s analysis is legally accurate. The continuing breach of international law identified in Hirst will not affect the legality of the forthcoming election for the purposes of domestic law. However, without reform the election will happen in a way which will inevitably breach the Convention rights of at least part of the prison population. This is in breach of the Government’s international obligation to secure for everyone within its jurisdiction the full enjoyment of those rights. We consider that the Government’s determination to draw clear distinctions between domestic legality and the ongoing breach of Convention rights shows a disappointing disregard for our international law obligations.

The Government is considering afresh the issue of prisoner voting rights. The issues raised are important and Ministers will be giving them full consideration. A fuller update will be provided to the Committee of Ministers at their meeting in September. Information provided at that meeting will be passed on to the Joint Committee, in line with usual practice relating to such updates. The approach to sharing information provided to the Committee of Ministers is discussed in more detail later in this paper".

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