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Monday, August 02, 2010

UK's hypocrisy on human rights

UK's hypocrisy on human rights

On the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website...

UK leads EU efforts to improve human rights in Sierra Leone

The British High Commission is leading EU efforts to improve protection of human rights in Sierra Leone.

Whilst I agree it is a good thing to improve protection of human rights in Sierra Leone, it is hypocritical for the UK to be leading this European Union effort because both the UK and EU are aware that the UK is failing to protect human rights within the UK.

Just as hypocritical is the MoJ's report Responding to human rights judgments: Government Response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ Fifteenth Report of Session 2009-10 The MoJ states in the report:

"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".

"Prisoners’ voting rights (Hirst v UK; Smith v Electoral Registration Officer)

The European Court of Human Rights found 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. (Paragraph 107)

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. (Paragraph 108)

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. (Paragraph 117)

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. (Paragraph 119)".

"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".

It has to be said that the Government's statement is disingenuous to say the least.

Given that "The United Kingdom is obliged to implement judgments of the European Court of Human Rights", then why has it not done so after 5 years in Hirst v UK (No2)? All that is required is for s.3 of RPA 1983 to be amended.

"The JCHR said:

In short, we find it unfortunate that the UK’s generally good record on implementation is undermined to a considerable extent by the very lengthy delays in implementation in those cases where the political will to make the necessary changes is lacking. In our view, whatever the challenges thrown up by a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, a delay of five years or more in implementing such a judgment can never be acceptable".

An unacceptable situation, which is also a national disgrace, continues under the present coalition Government.

"The Government’s approach to human rights

The Government remains committed to the European Convention on Human Rights, and to giving effect to the Convention in domestic law. However, the Government wants to look afresh at how human rights are protected in the United Kingdom to see if things can be done better and in a way that properly reflects our traditions. To this end, a Commission will be created to investigate the creation of a Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. The Government will also seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties. More information will be provided to the Joint Committee on the Commission, its remit and operation as these details are finalised".

Notice the "look afresh" creeps in again? There is no need to look afresh at Hirst v UK (No2), simply fully comply with the judgment. I suspect that the Government is attempting to bury this case in wider constitutional reforms and attempting to put it before the Commission mentioned. I will meet such a move with a legal challenge. The case must be dealt with in isolation because it is a discrete issue. I suspect that the coalition are simply trying to buy more time and thereby try to dodge the obligation to the Convention.

The MoJ states:

"There are some particularly sensitive and difficult areas in which progress towards implementation has not been as rapid as in other cases. However, this is a necessary consequence of the complexity of the issues raised in such cases.

While five years is a timeframe in which implementation could confidently expect to be completed in most cases, there will always be exceptional circumstances that render this impossible and the process may therefore legitimately take longer in a small number of cases. Whenever the implementation process does take more than five years to complete, the reasons for this will of course be explained to the Joint Committee".

It is strange that the MoJ should claim my case is difficult when the Electoral Commission and Venice Commission have stated that it is simple!

When are we going to hear the truth?

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