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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Coalition of supporters for all convicted prisoners to vote to challenge the Coalition

Coalition of supporters for all convicted prisoners to vote to challenge the Coalition

For Immediate Release

Association of Prisoners

Contact: John Hirst
landline: (01482) 341281
mobile: 07757299845

A coalition of supporters for all convicted prisoners to vote, are set to do political battle to force the government to fully comply with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments in Hirst v UK (No2) and Frodl v Austria.

The coalition of supporters is based on the ‘Thieves Parliament’ which forced the Swedish government in 1968 to give all prisoners the vote. The reason why it was decided not to use the ‘Thieves Parliament’ for the present campaign is because it may be confused with the present expenses fiddling regime in Parliament.

The coalition of supporters is believed to include, inter alia, the Association of Prisoners (part of the international Prisoners Rights Movement), Prison Reform Trust, Unlock, Liberty, the Aire Centre, Justice and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

In both the Hirst and Frodl decisions, the ECtHR was clear that because all prisoners are human beings they are entitled to the human right to vote under Article 3 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Hirst No2 case was a direct challenge to s.3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. When the case was first heard in the High Court in London, Lord Justice Kennedy stated if s.3 of ROPA 1983 could withstand the challenge from Art 3 of the1st Protocol then that was the end of it. His judgment was overruled by the highest court in Europe, which decided that s.3 fell under the weight of Art 3 of the 1st Protocol. The ECtHR criticised Kennedy LJ, for relying upon Sauvé No1 when it had been overruled by Sauvé No2, and for abdicating his responsibilities by deferring to Parliament. Following Kennedy LJ’s decision, the Supreme Court in Canada struck down a ban on all prisoners serving 2 years or over as being unconstitutional. Chief Justice McLachlin stated that the right to vote was fundamental to democracy and the rule of law and could not be lightly set aside. He added “Limits on it required not deference, but careful examination”.

The ECtHR also criticised Parliament for not having debated whether convicted prisoners should have the vote. In other words, in 2000, Parliament had lightly set aside the issue of convicted prisoners when granting the vote to remand prisoners.
George Howarth had misled Parliament, the public and the media when he stated that the measure was compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998 and with the Convention.

Much has been made by the media and politicians stating that the general public are against convicted prisoners getting the vote. “That may well be so, but the decisions taken by this Court are not made to please or indispose members of the public, but to uphold human rights principles” stated Judge Caflisch in Hirst v UK (No2).

When the UK ratified the Convention it signed up to the three objectives of the Council of Europe; Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law. The UK also signed up to abide by the Convention and the Court decisions which are final and binding on the UK. This means that the Executive, Parliament and Judiciary are bound to fully comply. Under the Labour administration; Jack Straw, Charles Falconer, Tony Blair and David Miliband attempted to evade their responsibilities and get the UK off the hook. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is charged with executing the Court judgments. All Labour achieved was a 5 year delay. This was only possible because the Committee of Ministers was a toothless watchdog.

However, under the Lisbon Treaty the Council of Europe and Court got new powers and the Committee of Ministers got a new set of sharp teeth. These came with the ratification of Protocol 14 by Russia in February 2010. The reason why the coalition is in so much trouble now is because of the Interlaken process. This relates to sanctions which can be applied to rogue or pariah states, that is, those which are totalitarian or authoritarian and ignore human rights, democracy and rule of law. In February 2010, Baroness Scotland, the former Attorney General, signed up the UK to the Interlaken Declaration. It is binding on the UK. This was the ticking time bomb left in the Ministry of Justice and has now blown up in Kenneth Clarke’s face.

The coalition agreement to pass the issue of convicted prisoners’ votes to Nick Clegg and the Cabinet Office is unlawful. William Hague is required to ensure that the MoJ ensures that all citizens in the UK (including all convicted prisoners) get their human rights under the Convention. Because Dominic Grieve, as the AG, is the government legal adviser, he is also bound to comply with European law. Both the Tories and LibDems failed to challenge Labour’s inactivity of fully complying with Hirst v UK (No2) for 5 years therefore they have only themselves to blame for the uncomfortable mess they find themselves in today. All three parties, along with the Executive, Parliament and Judiciary, are guilty of human rights violations as far as Europe is concerned.

In February, the Committee of Ministers will again be examining the UK’s failure to fully comply with Hirst No2. Recently, the Court ruled in Greens and MT v UK that the UK has 6 months to fully implement the decision or else. Ultimately, sanctions include suspending or expelling the UK from both the Council of Europe and European Union and sanctions imposed by the United Nations. Initially, these institutions may simply suspend the UK’s voting rights in Europe and the UN. Trade sanctions may also be imposed. The UK will only be able to trade with other rogue or pariah states, and perhaps with the US and China all of which have equally bad human rights abuse records. Lady Butler-Sloss was right when she stated in the House of Lords that non-compliance with Hirst No2 was a national disgrace. And, Lord Lester of Herne Hill was right when he stated all Kenneth Clarke has to do is make a remedial order under s.10 of the HRA and the issue would be resolved. Simples.


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