All bets are off for prisoner votes
16 March 2011
As well as blaming bloggers for media frenzies in yesterday’s Law in Action interview, the Attorney General also made some interesting comments on the UK’s bold new tactic on prisoner votes (see my post on Monday), which is effectively to try to appeal an unappealable ruling.
He said (from 19:20) that the UK “takes its responsibility seriously” and that it would be seeking to reform the court when it takes on the chairmanship later this year. “In any political process” he reminded Rozenberg, “the movement of the tectonic plates is always going to be a bit rough” (please note that the programme was recorded before the Japanese earthquakes). He would not say, however, whether the government would do anything to comply with the ruling in Hirst No. 2.
The government is now arguing that the original European Court of Human Rights ruling was based on the assumption that Parliament had not debated the issue. And, since it now has been done so and backed a non-binding motion opposing giving prisoners the vote, the court should revisit its decision.
Rozenberg challenged Grieve that the UK could not just play for time on the issue. Grieve responded that the if the”will of Parliament is quite clear the government cannot overbear it“. Rozenberg responded that the government can hardly gauge the will of Parliament from an unwhipped debate (that is, one in which the government did not recommend to its ministers which way to vote).
He did say that even if the UK were to withdraw from the Convention in future, this would not absolve the UK of its previous obligations.
As I said earlier this week, the UK’s tactic is certainly bold, and one which the European court is unlikely to appreciate. But since we are in uncharted waters, it is very difficult to predict what will happen next.
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