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Friday, April 08, 2011

Prime Minister can deny prisoners the vote says senior judge

Prime Minister can deny prisoners the vote says senior judge

By Steve Doughty
Last updated at 12:21 AM on 8th April 2011

Ruling: Lord Neuberger said that the Prime Minister can defy European judges over prisoner votes

David Cameron is free to deny prisoners the right to vote without interference from the courts, one of the country’s most senior judges said yesterday.

The Prime Minister can defy European human rights judges without fear of a battle with the judiciary, Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger said.

It clears the way for Mr Cameron to reject demands that Britain allow inmates to vote and removes the risk of £150million compensation claims from criminals.

And the Master of the Rolls – the leading civil law judge in England – revealed there were deep concerns among judges that the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights had become too big for its boots.

He said judges ‘think that there is something in the view that Strasbourg is getting rather too interventionist in some areas’ and believe it is trying to dictate laws to Europe.

Lord Neuberger gave his verdict on the right of Parliament to reject votes for prisoners in a lecture to lawyers.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown stalled over carrying out a deeply unpopular instruction from Europe, but Strasbourg has been putting pressure on Mr Cameron’s Government and expects him to comply by this autumn.

Some senior ministers, including Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, have said prisoners must be given the vote in accordance with ‘the rule of law’.

MPs, however, indicated by a big majority in a free vote earlier this year that they deplore the idea of enfranchising prisoners.

He said the law was made by Parliament and that Parliament was free to choose whether it listened to judges in Strasbourg.

He said: ‘The implementation of a Strasbourg or, indeed, a domestic court judgment is a matter for Parliament.

‘If it chose not to implement a Strasbourg judgment, it might place the United Kingdom in breach of its treaty obligations, but... it would be a political decision, with which the courts could not interfere.’

Choice: Some senior ministers want to give prisoners the vote, but many other MPs voted against the measure during a free vote earlier this year

The Master of the Rolls said that the Strasbourg prisoner vote ruling might prevent dictators from locking up political opponents, and that adapting the law might be a small price to pay for a civilised Europe.

‘Nonetheless,’ he said, ‘many people, including some judges, think that there is something in the view that Strasbourg is getting rather too interventionist in some areas; that it has strayed too far from the alarm bell intention behind the Convention and too far towards the European Bill of Rights end of the spectrum.’

Comment: I suspect that the Daily Mail has got the wrong end of the stick here. But if it is accurate reporting, then Kenneth Clarke needs to be ensuring that the men in the white coats remove this mental patient from office until he recovers his senses.

UPDATE: Read the lecture here.


James Higham said...

Yes, I saw that and wondered how you'd react to it. Interesting times ahead and I think you'll have your work cut out.

jailhouselawyer said...

James: I am concentrating myself not on the article which is so inaccurate as to be almost unbelievable, but focusing on the speech given by the Master of the Rolls.