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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ministers urged to defy European Court on prison votes

Ministers urged to defy European Court on prison votes

In a Commons showdown later, MPs will urge the government to defy the European Convention on Human Rights and refuse to give prisoners the vote.

They are expected to back a cross-party motion, tabled by Jack Straw and David Davis, saying the matter should be left to "democratically-elected lawmakers".

Mr Davis says this will strengthen David Cameron's hand in confronting the Strasbourg court on the issue.

The prime minister has previously said he has no choice but to abide by it.

But Mr Cameron gave hope to those calling for the government to defy the ruling on Wednesday, when he told MPs he saw "no reason" why prisoners should be given the vote.

Government ministers, and Labour shadow cabinet members, have been ordered to abstain in the Commons vote.

'Constitutional crisis'

But senior Conservative David Davis said he still expected those backing the motion to win by a "majority of more than 100", as backbench MPs will be given a free vote.

He argued that not being allowed to vote is part of "paying your debt to society" but claimed "we have won the argument on prisoners" and the issue now is what happens when MPs win the vote.

He told Sky News: "It tells the government that Parliament does not want to change our law it wants it exactly as it is now - therefore it cannot abide by one of the demands of the court.

"And the only thing left for the government to do is to take that Hansard, take that vote, and go back to the European Court and say Parliament doesn't agree with you, we are a democracy, we're not a dictatorship. we can't tell Parliament what to do, think again."

He predicted that this would spark a "minor constitutional crisis" and prompt other countries to question "what happens when the court gets it wrong".

"If we achieve nothing else this afternoon, that will be a massive benefit for the European Court of Human Rights, and for human rights proper all across Europe," he added.

But former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott said the debate was part of a plot by "some Tory right wingers who want to get rid of the Human Rights Act" and he urged MPs not to support the motion, telling them: "Don't go down that road".

'Minimum necessary'

Lord Prescott, who reportedly clashed with Mr Straw on the issue at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party earlier this week, said that the former justice secretary was the only Labour MP to sign what was essentially a "Tory motion".

The Labour peer, who sits on the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly which elects ECHR judges, told Today: "As a sovereign Parliament, we signed up for this human rights change - nobody disagreed with it at all - that says we observe the obligations of the convention.

"If we in fact feel there is a disagreement, it lays out that the dispute will be decided by the judge at the European court."

Hundreds of prisoners have instigated claims for being denied the right to vote and the government is facing potential compensation bills of more than £100m.

It has proposed to allow the vote to inmates serving less than four years, although there have been signs that that might be reduced still further.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has spoken repeatedly of doing "the minimum necessary" to comply with the law.

On Wednesday, Mr Clarke said it was "nonsense" to suggest that murderers and rapists were going to be given the vote.

At present, in the UK, only prisoners on remand are allowed to vote.

In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that blanket ban unlawful, and in June, the Council of Europe, which enforces the court's decrees, urged the coalition to rectify the situation.

The voting rights of prisoners is a UK-wide issue and will affect Scotland and Northern Ireland, even though the administration of justice is devolved.


Megegg said...

When, oh when are we going to elect politicians who see further than their own interests, this is simply bowing to the "Throw away the key brigade", namely their voters, well, those that can be bothered anymore, rather than do what is right. Stop dehumanising and excluding prisoners from the society they supposedly want to rehabilitate them back into!!

Tim said...

All that these politicians are doing is demonstrating why the ECHR is needed - to place an outside check on homespun 'might makes right.'