Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Prisoners to get the vote while Church of England bishops are barred

Those who are incarcerated at Her Majesty’s pleasure already get television – cable, satellite, Sky and the internet. They’ve got X-Box, Wii and a library of mindless zombie-murdering games; they have complementary gym membership, priority healthcare, free dental treatment and an à la carte menu from which they can select which gourmet chef’s creation they wish to consume, bespoke and bacon-free if you happen to be that way inclined.

They can get discounts on their sentences, enjoy conjugal rights, and are entitled to free heroin and cocaine because ‘cold turkey’ breaches their human rights.

So why not give them the vote?

Every key marginal would then be yearning for a prison to be built in the constituency so that a visiting parliamentary candidate could kill a couple of thousand jail birds with one canvassing stone. Imagine the glorious gerrymandering opportunity: one speech to a captive audience in which you promise them the key to their cell, and that’s your majority taken care of.

This is not, of course, an EU issue.

But it will be presented, perceived and understood as one.

And coming the week after the Prime Minister conceded a £430million increase in the EU budget, he needs this judgement like a hole in the head.

Sentenced prisoners have been denied the right to take part in ballots since the passing of the Forfeiture Act 1870. This was itself based on the 14th-century notion of ‘civic death’, and has been sustained right up to the Representation of the People Act 1983.

It is this blanket ban which has been deemed by the European Court of Human Rights to be a breach of prisoners’ human rights.

The European Court of Human Rights is not an institution of the European Union. It is a creation of the Council of Europe (again, not an EU body: it has 47 member states) and rules on disputes arising from the European Convention on Human Rights which was incorporated into UK law in the Human Rights Act 1998.

In this sense, Strasbourg has nothing to do with Brussels.

But that won’t stop millions of furious Daily Mail readers banging on about Brussels.

If they want to blame anyone, they need look no further than ‘jailhouse lawyer’ John Hirst, who, whilst a guest of Her Majesty after having been found guilty of killing his landlady with an axe, challenged the removal of his vote. The ECHR ruled in 2004 that the blanket ban was discriminatory and breached the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the ruling said that each country can decide which offences should carry restrictions to voting rights.

Labour kicked the issue well and truly into the long grass, and the Coalition has simply inherited the inevitable.

The issue now is that either the Government complies with the ruling, or they will face compensation claims of tens of millions of pounds from prisoners whose human rights have been infringed (at least according to the ECHR).

His Grace has a few things to say:

Firstly, voting is not a human right.

If it were, babies would be given a ballot paper at the breast, and schoolchildren would not be deprived of their inviolable pursuit of democracy. Voting is an entitlement of privilege granted to members of a democratic society which forms part of a social contract. When that contract is broken, as it undoubtedly is by the law-breaker, it is not unreasonable for the entitlement to be removed.

To be free is a human right. And yet it is manifestly forfeited in the provision of a custodial sentence.

There is no end to re-classifying of entitlements as ‘rights’, and this can only have the effect of undermining the rule of law and diminishing the authority of the state to determine and dispense justice.

Secondly, if David Cameron learned enough philosophy from his PPE degree, he could turn this ruling to his advantage.

It is important to note that the ECHR has granted national governments the right to determine which classification of prisoners might be given the right to vote and which deprived: the power remains for a sovereign Parliament to legislate to ensure that murderers, rapists and paedophiles do not determine the outcome of a general election.

And while they are legislating on that, they might consider including those who commit fraud, burgle houses, steal cars or graffiti walls.

In theory, there is no limit upon the Coalition to determine who may not vote: the ECHR ruling applies only to the blanket prohibition.

Thirdly, there is no question of prisoners being released on parole to visit their nearest polling station: they are all likely to be postal votes.

It is already known that this area needs urgent reform, and there is no reason why the same rules which are designed to prevent some Asian males from casting multiple votes on behalf of their sisters, cousins and aunts, might also apply to a prison regime in which harassment, bullying and intimidation must be endemic.

Fourthly, His Grace thought that the UK had a ‘Supreme Court’.

In what sense is it supreme if it still be subject to rulings from a higher court?

Fifthly, the Attorney General Dominic Grieve has previously said it would be ‘ludicrous’ to give prisoners the right to vote.

And yet he is one of the Conservative Party’s foremost proponents of the ECHR.

Is it not time to revisit the Human Rights Act 1998 and the UK’s adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights, irrespective of the role UK lawyers played in its drafting?

Sixthly, in terms of cost, it is estimated that the taxpayer might have to foot a compensation bill of around £50 million if 70,000 prisoners are not given the vote; each individual claim is likely to be of the order of £750.

Why not then extract the equivalent of this sum from each claiming prisoner on release, by way of reparation? A compulsory community service; a mandatory contribution to the ‘Big Society’?

Seventhly, if David Cameron were to assert Parliamentary Sovereignty and refuse to comply with this ruling (unlikely, of course, whilst in coalition with a Europhiliac deputy prime minister, but bear with His Grace), what’s the worst that could happen?

Suspension or expulsion from the Council of Europe?

Would the UK actually lose anything by such action?

And eighthly, and finally, it must be observed that it is not only convicted prisoners who are deprived by UK law from participating in general elections. The ban extends to members of the House of Lords, including life peers, Church of England archbishops and bishops and hereditary peers who have retained their seat in the House of Lords.

And under common law, people with mental disabilities are also deprived of their ‘human right’ to vote if, on polling day, they are incapable of making a reasoned judgement.

Such a draconian restriction is hardly conducive to their rehabilitation or to the education of the general population with regard to the stigma of mental health problems.

Quite why Church of England bishops should be categorised with the mentally insane is unknown.

Is this not religious discrimination?

Ought it to be tested in the omnipotent and omnibenevolent European Court of Human Rights?

Why should being a state shepherd of the state’s sheep deprive one of the right to determine by whom one is governed?


Blogger LeucipottomySpoon82 said...

"And under common law, people with mental disabilities are also deprived of their ‘human right’ to vote if, on polling day, they are incapable of making a reasoned judgement."

So according to neurotypical people I should not be allowed to vote? That's scary.

2 November 2010 at 10:03  
Blogger AncientBriton said...

Well said Your Grace.
I listened to the 'axeman' this morning with disgust. Regardless of any point of law, there was no contrition; just the rights of felons.

2 November 2010 at 10:41  
Blogger Andrew said...

Great article! A friend pointed me to your blog today on this issue, and this article has been well worth the reader. Looking forward to working through the archives here and reading your future posts.

2 November 2010 at 10:59  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

For once I am probably in agreement with Cranmer and most who post here. We have a Supreme Court so why do we need a more Supreme Court? The issue is not whether prisoners have the vote, which is debateable; it is about the primacy of our own national judicial system.

2 November 2010 at 11:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Firstly, voting is not a human right.

If not YG, Why the hell have we got troops in Afghanistan dying for the 'human rights' of the locals to self determination through the principle of 'democratic' process?

I second the comments of GD.

2 November 2010 at 11:10  
Anonymous philip walling said...

It's hard to understand why nearly everybody (except for the categories you list) should be allowed to vote.

The common weal can only properly be served if those voting have an interest in the stability of the state and are likely to bring some objective judgment to bear on their choice of candidate and are likely not to vote capriciously.

As many electors vote tribally, with only a tentative grasp of the issues and minimal insight into the character of those who offer themselves for election (viz T. Blair's victories) and out of what they perceive to be material self-interest, most would be disqualified if "on polling day [they have to be] capable of making a reasoned judgment."

I also, for what must be the first time, agree with Graham Davis.

2 November 2010 at 11:12  
Anonymous Stuart said...

This spoof sums it all up nicely for me:

UK prisoners to be given X Factor vote

2 November 2010 at 11:18  
Blogger Gawain Towler said...

There was a vote in Prisons at the last election, run by Inside Times, we would be left with a Nick Nick coalition.


2 November 2010 at 12:03  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ Graham Davis—We have a Supreme Court so why do we need a more Supreme Court?

A Supreme Court that isn’t supreme; a democracy that isn’t government by the people but a front for EU dictatorship; a Conservative party that isn’t conservative but liberal; a Labour party that despises the working class; a Liberal Democrat party that is in love with the totalitarianism of Brussels; Honourable Members of Parliament who are strangers to honour; a sovereign nation that is anything but; a religion of peace that preaches violence…

2 November 2010 at 12:07  
Blogger Lakester91 said...

Surely our problem is the namby pambyish nature of how we classify our rights and responsibilities. Imagine the UK as a small tribe. It has its own leader, its own territory and its own rules. If you want to traverse, farm and hunt on their lands then you must join the tribe; to do this you must follow their rules and if you break them, then they are at liberty to throw you out.

The ancient Greek notion of law was that it was a social contract, and that notion existed up until very recently. In order to receive the protection of the law, one must live within it; hence the term 'outlaw'.

There is no doubt as to whether prisoners should be allowed to vote. Until they are reconciled with society, they cannot expect the liberties that are offered to the law abiding.

Ex-prisoners should vote
Prisoners should not

2 November 2010 at 13:04  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Looks like the Crapalition has raised the white flag, widened its yellow streak and taken the path of least resistance (in the face of common sense). A-frigging-gain!

2 November 2010 at 13:34  
Anonymous Gerard Tibercross said...

Your Gace is a little confused about the interaction of the Human Rights Act and the Convention. When the UK first signed the Convention it could only be brought before the court at Strasbourg by another signatory state. In due course the UK fell into line with other signatory states and allowed its citizens direct access to the court. This meant a UK citizen could go to Strasbourg to argue his rights had been infringed, but could not raise the same point in proceedings in courts anywhere within the UK. Citizens of other signatory states generally could do so as there was provision in the written constitution. The result was the UK was being hauled before the Strasbourg court with embarrassing frequency. The Human Rights Act means that these issues are, in the main, resolved in our oown courts rather than at Strasbourg.

The Supreme Court remains the Supreme Court for determining issues of national law. The Strasbourg court only determines whether the UK has fulfilled its treaty obligations.

By the way, your Grace has been misinformed as to conditions in Her Majesty's free boarding houses. It's an old joke that the Ville (HMP Pentonville) is so dirty even the mice wear overalls.

Gerard Tibercross

2 November 2010 at 14:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It also seems that the woman who stabbed S Timms is being allowed to refuse to attend court to be sentenced - amazing.

2 November 2010 at 14:15  
Blogger dazhat said...

What are your thoughts on Jesus with HIV?


2 November 2010 at 14:23  
Anonymous Anguished Soul said...

Is this a case of Barabbas versus Christ, Your Grace?

2 November 2010 at 14:26  
Anonymous Zach Johnstone said...

A sublime article.

Surely one of your very best, Your Grace.

On a legal, moral, philosophical, political and anthropological level, this ruling is severely flawed.

2 November 2010 at 15:11  
Blogger Maturecheese said...

I agree with Ancient Briton, I too heard that sad excuse on R5 this morning. He appeared to show no remorse at all for what he did, instead a more arrogant and rebellious attitude came over.

He even banged on about prisoners having the 'right' to internet and mobile phones in their cells, presumably so they can continue their criminal activities online and use their mobiles to carry on running their nasty drugs empires.

Just when I think that our leaders can get no more ridiculous, they surprise me yet again.

we are clearly no longer a sovereign state.

2 November 2010 at 15:13  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Och Your Grace

Ye say that this has got nothing to with the EU's supreme court, the European Court of Justice.

The European Human Rights Court will never set a precedent that will be on a collision with a precedent set by the EU's supreme court: that would mean asking: which court is supreme?

The two courts are in cahoots with each other.

2 November 2010 at 15:39  
Blogger Marie1797 said...

Our stupid politicians signed our democracy away to remote third parties so they now cannot moan when they turn round and dictate to us what we can and cannot do in our own country.

Well you know what you have to do at the next election, support and vote for the BNP.

2 November 2010 at 15:45  
Anonymous Voyager said...

"It is a creation of the Council of Europe"

It was created by the British to embarrass Stalinist Central Europe and its detachment from human rights. It has backfired on Britain now that many of its "Judges" are in fact Civil Servants from Ministries of Justice rather than practising lawyers.

It has a Bureaucracy approach to law rather than a prosecuting counsel perspective

2 November 2010 at 15:53  
Anonymous Delroy Oates said...

can't see what is wrong with this myself. Human Rights are important and it is only the tories who would disagree with that. Tamper at this great court at your peril.

2 November 2010 at 16:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Quite why the Church of England bishops should be categorized with the mentally insane is unknown."

Really? It is unknown to you?

Because they ARE insane. Have you noticed the BS coming out of the church today? Have you noticed the mass exodus leaving the CoE and Episcopal churches? Have you noticed how the church is failing on YOUR watch, Your Grace? The leaders of the CoE and Episcopal church ARE indeed insane. Keep them away from the polling booths!

2 November 2010 at 16:48  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why should being a state shepherd of the state’s sheep deprive one of the right to determine by whom one is governed?

Why? Because they are leading the sheep right off a cliff.

2 November 2010 at 16:50  
Blogger LeucipottomySpoon82 said...

I don't know if anyone here has seen the video of John Hirst celebrating, but just in case, here it is:


Many of the comments (I won't repeat them here) to that video pretty much sum up how I feel with regard this whole business, and how I feel with regard John Hirst in particular. It appears he has never shown the slightest remorse for his actions.

It stands to reason that if people with a mental disability can be deemed unfit to make a reasoned judgment (and many people with such disabilities are people that do their level best to contribute to society, keep within the law, pull their own weight as far as they are able, and so on), then that should apply triply so to people that have made such stupid, cruel, or inhumane judgments as to perform acts which ended in their incarceration and segregation from society at large.

2 November 2010 at 18:04  
Anonymous not a machine said...

Still doesnt make sense to me , I thought that it was the quality of the inmates "reasoned judgement" that had got them in prison in the first place .

soon be onto maximum sentence of a stern talking to , and dress down tutu wearing for uniformed personnel of fridays !

2 November 2010 at 18:04  
Anonymous Janet said...

Nice that they get to pick and choose which parts of the law to uphold and use. Sad that their victims didn't get any such choice, and none of these courts or lawyers seem to worry about the victims' human rights.

2 November 2010 at 18:36  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Delroy Oates @ 16.00 ... you worry me!

2 November 2010 at 18:43  
Anonymous IanCad said...

YG, After reading this perhaps we should return to limiting the franchise to the Forty Shilling Freeholder.

2 November 2010 at 21:01  
Blogger oldmaid said...


Surely you must know only those with a demanding, noisy, aggressive and threatening fanatical ideoloogy of a religion can have the vote.

You really have to learn to be less placid and accepting...

2 November 2010 at 21:14  
Anonymous len said...

I suppose depriving someone of their freedom by incarcerating them is( in a view of some) a violation of their'human rights'.
In fact the whole human rights thing is a fiasco cynically used by unscrupulous people who manipulate the system for their own gain and makes a mockery of the Legal system.
To have a vote,to have a say in how society is run surely one should be contributing to that society and not be actively working against that society by criminal activities?

2 November 2010 at 23:28  
Blogger Manfarang said...

Why shouldn't crooks be able to vote for crooks.

3 November 2010 at 01:50  
Blogger Richard Gadsden said...

Your Grace has missed that the Forfeiture Act only applied to those convicted of a felony - those convicted of a misdemeanour were permitted to vote until the distinction was abolished in 1967.

It is slightly silly that persons serving a sentence of a few days or weeks are deprived of a vote in a General Election depending on the happenstance of when their court may sit.

We could simply apply the distinction already in place with the Rehabilitation of Offenders act, where sentences under 2.5 years can be spent, and sentences over that length cannot. This approximates to the old distinction between a misdemeanour and a felony, and would seem an appropriate distinction to reinstate.

5 November 2010 at 13:57  

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