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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's payback time for government on prisoners votes!

It's payback time for government on prisoners votes!

MPs make concessions on lifting prison vote ban. It is not so much this headline which gets my dander up, rather it is the opening paragraph: "Prison reform campaigners welcomed ministers' partial concession yesterday to allow some prisoners the right to vote before next year's local elections". I don't welcome it, and I am a prison reform campaigner, because it does not go far enough. It is a reference to the Prison Reform Trust, which I, and many others, believe to be part of the problem and not the cure. They can rightly be accused of being too cosy with the Establishment. The PRT and their lawyers excluded me from joining their campaign for the vote, and the two prisoners cases which they backed fell at the first fence whereas my case Hirst v UK (No2) romped home to win at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. My interpretation of the judgment, supported by the 8 April decision in Frodl v Austria, is that all convicted prisoners must be allowed the vote. However, the Court will allow disenfranchisement to the limited extent for somebody convicted of, for example, electoral fraud, if imposed by a judge, because there is a direct link between the crime and punishment.

Then the next paragraph got me too: "Amid reports that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is examining which criminals should be allowed the right to vote, No 10 said it would be "unfortunate" if a blanket ban was lifted entirely". Clegg is missing the point, it's the electorate which chooses the elected not the other way around! Who is this No 10? I recall that The Prisoner was No 6! What is unfortunate is that the UK left the blanket ban in place for 5 years after the Court's decision is final, and as a result 75,000 citizens had their human rights violated by not be able to vote on 6 May 2010. I don't care that Cameron and Clegg are in bed fighting over who is hogging more of the blanket!

I don't believe it! "But the Prime Minister's spokesman stressed the government would have to take into account a number of ongoing court cases on the issue as it examines a way forward". The only 2 cases the government needs to take into account are those already decided; Hirst and Frodl. The other cases merely argue that the government has failed to fully comply with Hirst and Frodl, and seek to establish that monetary damages should be available for the loss of the vote. The Court will not allow the government to re-argue either Hirst or Frodl in these other cases. The government itself is the obstacle to the way forward. All that needs to be done is for s.3 of the Representation Act 1983 to be amended to allow all convicted prisoners to vote; simples!

"European judges have previously ruled that Britain's outright ban on prisoner voting is unlawful under human rights laws, and the previous Labour government launched a consultation on the matter but failed to change the law". This is the problem with Labour spin! In Hirst the Court went further than simply stating that a blanket ban was unlawful under human rights law, and re-emphasised in Frodl what the Court had said in Hirst. Charles Falconer engaged in a damage limitation exercise, telling the BBC Radio 4 The World at One what the Hirst judgment did not say when he had not read it to see what it did say! He claimed that in future not all convicted prisoners would get the vote. Jonathan Aitken stated in the Daily Telegraph that by saying that Falconer had given a dangerous hostage to fortune. In fact, there was 2 dodgy consultation exercises. They were designed to stall for time. There is an outstanding Scottish Court decision which declared s.3 of RPA is incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. And yet, Jack Straw misled Parliament when he stated that Labour had never failed to comply with any such declaration of incompatibility.

"Mr Clegg is reportedly looking at which prisoners might be allowed to cast a ballot to head off a collision with the Council of Europe which has given Britain three months to comply". It is not his decision to make. The Court has decided all must get the vote. All the coalition has to do is implement it. So far, they have collided twice in June and September and both times the UK came off second best. As I understand it, the Tories passed the buck to the LibDems during the coalition agreement. But, this part of the deal is unlawful. In law, the buck stops with Kenneth Clarke. It is the MoJ's responsibility to ensure that all citizens in the UK get their human rights guaranteed under the Convention.

"Asked if the Prime Minister felt there was a "moral imperative" to change the current situation his official spokesman said: "He would think that a lot of people in the country would find this difficult to understand, but we will have to take into account what the courts say."". Labour had argued that prisoners lost the moral authority to vote by committing their crimes. The Court rejected this argument. Prisoners stood on high moral ground. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, during the expenses scandal, stated that Parliament had lost the moral aithority to govern. Morally and legally the UK is under an obligation to fully comply with the Hirst judgment. If the government and media did not go to such lengths to keep the public ignorant then they would not have difficulty understanding such a simple issue. It is not about taking into account what the Court states as though the government is the final decision maker. The Council of Europe has not only said that the UK must jump, but has also stated how high they must jump.

"The issue threatens to further expose tensions within the coalition - the Tories have previously argued that the ban should remain in place while the Lib-Dems have argued for change". There is some cross party support for the law to be changed. When Charles Kennedy was leader of the LibDems he stated publicly that all prisoners should have the vote. Nick Clegg and Vince Cable mounted a political coup following the Daily Mail and Sun headlines and editorials, Kennedy went and Clegg publicly announced that only some prisoners should get the vote. So, the LibDems leadership went from being in the right to being in the wrong on this issue, joining a conspiracy with Labour and the Tories to say and do nothing until after the election.

‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’(Edmund Burke).

It's payback time...

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