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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Votes for prisoners are essential for human rights

Votes for prisoners are essential for human rights

The UK must not usurp the authority of the European Court of Human Rights

Author: John Hirst, New Europe 22 May 2011 - Issue : 936

One of the arguments advanced by the UK in Hirst UK (No2) was that convicted prisoners by committing their crimes and receiving custodial sentences had lost the moral authority to vote. When the expenses scandal broke in the UK the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey opined that Parliament had lost the moral authority to govern.

Recently the 1922 Committee summoned David Cameron to a meeting and gave him instructions to curb the power of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), and curb the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Then last Tuesday were Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons: “The session started with a poser. Tory Philip Hollobone raised the inquiry of votes for prisoners, against which the house has already voted by a margin of 10 to one. “Will the administration bend the knee to the European Court, or will they stand up and insist that on this issue Britain will not budge?” Hmm. The Prime Minister said that Ken Clarke was “leading the charge” to constitute the court pay more attention to national parliaments. And he would “consider our response to this issue” in the hopes of bringing it “as close as imaginable to the will of the House of Commons””.

The ECHR has been undergoing reform for 10 years now, and the Interlaken Conference highlighted the growing number of cases back logged in the Court process and many of these from Member States which have failed to implement the Court’s judgments. Because the UK has so far ignored fully complying with Hirst v UK (No2) the UK has added 3,500 more cases from convicted prisoners denied their human right to vote! At the Interlaken Conference the UK reaffirmed its commitment to abide by the European Convention on Human Rights, and abide by the Court’s judgments. The UK cannot be allowed to get away with saying one thing and doing another.

According to Strasbourg compliance with the ECHR and implementing the ECHR decisions rests primarily with Member States. However, the UK is adopting the stance that Strasbourg cannot enforce its decisions and that it is unlikely that the UK will face any sanctions. This is clear evidence of a lack of responsibility on the part of the Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary. It discloses a structural failure relating to the separation of powers. The fusion of powers removes the necessary checks and balances against abuse of power. Supremacy of Parliament is contrary to the subsidiarity principle and sovereignty of the people. Within a country claiming to be a developed democracy and the mother of Parliaments, there is a systemic failure in ensuring human rights and providing an effective remedy for their breach by a national authority.
Strasbourg and Brussels along with the UN must step in and steer the UK away from becoming a rogue or pariah state.

The media needs to be informed that the UK is a failing state in relation to its obligations and responsibilities. This strong message must be reinforced with threats of referring Hirst v UK (No2) back to the Court for a ruling upon infringement, and the sanctions of suspension or expulsion from the Council of Europe and EU. The UK must not be allowed to use its chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers to usurp the authority of the Court. It is not as the UK tries to make out the Court challenging the UK’s sovereignty, rather it is the UK challenging the Court’s and Council of Europe’s authority. They must rise up to meet the challenge or human rights, democracy and the rule of law are lost.

John Hirst is a former prisoner who campaigns on prison and legal matters. He recently took the UK government to the European Court of Human Rights and won a key ruling on voting rights for offenders. He has a widely read weblog at

1 comment:

Tim said...

In my opinion, the UK's stance is embarrassing and shameful. They know they are breaking the law, so are falling back on 'you can't enforce it!' It's childish and wrong.