Why should outlaws have the right to vote, but not Church of England bishops?
For a thousand years it has been the English and British tradition to deprive outlaws of some of their rights and liberties, including the right to vote. But a ruling in the European Court of Human Rights has now put a stop to this appalling breach of their human rights. HM Government has been found to have transgressed Article 3 of the Convention. Henceforth, those who are ignorant of the meaning of citizenship and sufficiently devoid of responsibility to commit a crime shall have their right to vote restored. Certainly, there is some tinkering at the edges for national parliaments to indulge in (deciding, for example, whether this shall apply to those handed down custodial sentences of between one and four years), but sovereign parliaments ought to have the sovereign right to be able to do more than pick a number.
Let us be clear about this. If the franchise be restored to those who have been incarcerated for up to four years, it will place an additional 29,000 people on the electoral role and these will include thieves, murderers, rapists and paedophiles.
But Justice Secretary Jack Straw has said he cannot do anything about it, and that the development was ‘inevitable’ after the Court ruling.
This is interesting, because prospective MPs will now only have to knock on one door in order to reach thousands of potential voters. Presumably, since prisoners are to have the right to vote, they cannot be denied access to the information they need in order to educate them in the exercising of that vote. And by promising thieves, murderers, rapists and paedophiles better living conditions – more leisure time, nicer food, unlimited access to the internet, DVD players, Wii and X-Box – politicians will be able to gerrymander some of the most marginal constituencies.
This most unwelcome intrusion into our national affairs comes just a week after Lord Hoffmann, a senior Law Lord, attacked the European Court of Human Rights. Hoffmann, declaring in a lecture to the Judicial Studies Board that the court ‘has been unable to resist the temptation to aggrandise its jurisdiction and to impose uniform rules on Member States. It considers itself the equivalent of the Supreme Court of the United States, laying down a federal law of Europe’.
The Noble Lord observes that the Court is illegitimate and incompatible with our understanding of the Common Law:
“As the case law shows, there is virtually no aspect of our legal system, from land law to social security to torts to consumer contracts, which is not arguably touched at some point by human rights. But we have not surrendered our sovereignty over all these matters. We remain an independent nation with its own legal system, evolved over centuries of constitutional struggle and pragmatic change. I do not suggest belief that the United Kingdom’s legal system is perfect but I do argue that detailed decisions about how it could be improved should be made in London, either by our democratic institutions or by judicial bodies which, like the Supreme Court of the United States, are integral with our own society and respected as such.”
But the Conservative Party is compromised in its response. They talk of replacing the Human Rights Act 1998 (which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law) with a British ‘Bill of Rights’, without explaining why this Bill would not itself be subject to the ECHR, it protocols and emerging case law.
And they do not not appear to have noticed that the Treaty of Lisbon incorporates the ECHR into EU law. Such that the only solution of excising the UK from its provisions and shielding the nation from its interfering tentacles would be to head down the road of withdrawal from the European Union. The Conservatives' Bill of Rights could not otherwise prevent cases going to Strasbourg.
But Cranmer has a complaint:
If prisoners are henceforth to be granted the right to vote, by what authority does Parliament disenfranchise members of the House of Lords and the bishops and archbishops of the Church of England? Why should learned clerics be ranked with the mentally insane?
Cranmer is fully conversant with the history and religio-political reasoning behind the prohibition. But surely, if the seditious criminal is now to be entrusted with full participation in the democratic process, then a fortiori ought the spirit-filled bishops of the Church of England to have their ‘human rights’ restored.