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The European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg overturned the British government’s appeal against the Court’s previous ruling on prisoners’ right to vote earlier this week. The appeal, tabled through asking an individual case, of a rapist asking for the right to vote, to be brought in front of the Grand Chamber of the Court. The appeal was launched in March after MPs voted in favour, by a majority of 212 in February, to keep the blanket ban. This has been a very controversial topic; David Cameron, despite abstaining from the vote in the House of Commons, claimed that the mere thought of prisoners being able to vote makes him “physically ill”.
When issues such as this arise, people frequently begin to criticise “Europe” as a whole. However, it must be remembered that the European Court of Human Rights is an entirely separate body from the European Union. The European Court of Human Rights is also much larger than the EU, covering 47 countries with a total population of over 800 million. It is also important to note that the European Court of Human Rights is not at all similar to the European Court of Justice at Luxembourg, the judicial pillar of the European Union. The job of the ECJ is simply to interpret and ensure the proper application of the laws of the EU. The work of the European Court of Human Rights does not usually involve the UK in any sense. The court is currently working with a backlog of over 140,000 cases, mostly relating to countries such as Russia and Serbia, attempting to protect civil and political liberties, in the aftermath of conflicts. However, the UK has been given six months to draw up proposals for changing our current laws on the issue.
So, what can be done? The ruling by the court clearly defies our ancient doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty. One option therefore, would be to withdraw the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. However, this has already been ruled out by ministers, and court officials claim it would be a “grave mistake”. The British government has already set up a commission to investigate the possibility of creating a British Bill of Rights, an idea which has previously been championed by David Cameron, but would be unlikely to please the Liberal Democrats. The government could defy the ruling and continue to block prisoners from voting, and in future choose to either pay up or overtly refuse to pay compensation. However, both of these options could prove to be politically toxic. Alternatively, the government could do the minimum possible amount to allow as small a number as possible of prisoners to be able to vote.
Part of the point of a sentence in prison is that a person loses some of their liberties. Despite being a libertarian, I completely agree with this principle. I think it is more than fair that people who have committed a crime serious enough to warrant a prison sentence should not be given the right to have a say in who makes the law. I believe that the time has come to draw the line, to stand up to the unelected judges in Strasbourg, to maintain our national parliamentary democracy and ensure that that the government of the land sets the law of the land.
By Simon Holmes
- Freedom in the City on 22nd May with JP Floru on May 22, 2013 12:30 pm
- The Freedom Association’s Magna Carta Pimms and Politics Cruise on June 15, 2013 12:30 pm
- Conservative Renewal Conference on September 14, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on September 30, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on October 1, 2013
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