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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Nobody should vote for a government that flouts the rule of law

Nobody should vote for a government that flouts the rule of law

The headline is Joshua Rozenberg's bottom line in this article.

He might have added "or breaches human rights and is opposed to democracy". Then, at least, he would have covered the 3 objectives of the Council of Europe.

But, to be fair, after all, he is only a legal commentator and not a legal expert.

Joshua Rozenberg's first line is "How did the government get itself into such a mess over prisoners voting?". However, he fails to answer his own question within the article. The short answer is because I decided to legally challenge the disenfranchisement of convicted prisoners.

"After human rights judges stretched out the hand of friendship to the UK last week, David Cameron promptly bit it off, willingly giving parliament an undertaking that he would not succumb to what one MP had described as the European court’s ‘diktat’".

I am naturally suspicious why the ECtHR, the supposedly guardian of 800,000,000 Europeans human rights, would bend over backwards to appease a human rights violating State? I would question the tactic of rewarding bullies for their bad behaviour. Interested parties should not stand by and watch victims of human rights abuse and due process be usurped.

"Cameron’s problem seems to be that he pays more attention to some of the newspapers than he does to those who could give him sound legal advice". He might have added "and to some of his backbenchers". Joshua Rozenberg appears to be ignorant of the fact that it is the role of Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, to provide the government with legal advice. Unless he is submitting an unorthodox job application for the Prime Minister's legal adviser?

"Similarly, a lawyer would have advised Cameron that the Strasbourg decision on prisoner voting was a limited, though significant, climbdown by the court - and one that could have formed the basis of an acceptable compromise. Indeed, the prime minister could have learned all he needed to know by reading the first paragraph of a carefully written court press release that had clearly been aimed at the British media".

There's good legal advice and bad legal advice. Which Strasbourg decision on prisoner voting? There have been several to my knowledge. I suspect that he is referring to Scoppola v Italy (No3). Whilst it is accepted that "limited, though significant" are not necessarily incompatible, I would advise caution against reading too much into the claim that the ECtHR has climbed down to a human rights violating State. My good legal advice to Joshua Rozenberg is to read the bottom line of the press statement he is keen to advise the PM on: "This press release is a document produced by the Registry. It does not bind the Court. Decisions, judgments...". It may well have been aimed at the British media, for all the good it did because the British media responded in typical fashion...

Baldrick-like Joshua Rozenberg announces with great fanfare "I have a cunning plan".

Images of Joshua Rozenberg as Baldrick

However, Joshua Rozenberg has failed to take into account the famous Scots poem by Rab C Nesbitt. 

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy! ".

C'mon Joshua Rozenberg, are you a man or a mouse? Squeak up!

"Crucially for the government, though, the bill really does not have to go very far to ensure there is no longer a blanket ban. Minor, largely cosmetic changes are all that is needed and it would be years before the court could decide whether they complied with the first protocol to the human rights convention, which guarantees free elections. So here is my plan. We know that remand prisoners - those awaiting trial - are allowed to vote, presumably by post or proxy. Why not extend this privilege for the first three months of a prisoner’s sentence? That would, in effect, reserve disenfranchisement for those sentenced to six months or more. It should pose no greater administrative problems than allowing remand prisoners to vote and it would probably be enough to satisfy the court".

Either Joshua Rozenberg has failed to read or understand the Hirst v UK (No2) judgment. In particular, that any restriction upon the franchise must not be arbitrary. So he arbitrarily plucks a 3 month cut off point out of thin air. Duh! The judgment cleary states that voting is a human right and not a privilege. Duh! It is not an administrative problem for Remand prisoners to vote. Administrative inconvenience is not a valid ground for denying any legal, civil, political or human rights to prisoners. In fact, the former Director General of NOMS, Phil Wheatley, assured me that administrative plans had been drawn up and could be put into practice once the government had given the green light. The problem is lack of Parliamentary will for reform.

For someone who claims to care passionately about politicians knee-jerk reactions, Joshua Rozenberg has a funny way of showing it. Perhaps, he should instead be a stand up comedian than a clown in this media circus? One thing is for sure, I won't be calling on him for his legal advice pretty soon. The first rule of journalism is to only write what you know about. The legal maxim "ignorance of the law is no excuse" applies to Joshua Rozenberg. This is a specialist area of knowledge. Joshua Rozenberg has failed to pass the Hirst test. His case is dismissed. Next!

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