Tick tock tick tock
13 April 2011
The clock is ticking again on prisoner votes. The European Court of Human Rights has rejected the UK government’s latest appeal in the long-running saga.
The UK had attempted to appeal the recent decision in Greens and M.T. v. the United Kingdom. The full background can be found in my previous post, in which I predicted that the European court would find the UK’s appeal unappealing. It has, and the result is that the UK has just under six months to remove the blanket ban on prisoners voting.
Incidentally, Rosalind’s post from earlier today relates to a separate but also interesting Scottish court judgment on prisoner votes.
The outcome of the latest rejection is that around 2,500 cases which the Court has before it including around 1,500 which had been registered, can be “unfrozen”, that is reinstated, if the UK fails to implement the decision in Hirst No 2. The Equality and Human Rights Commission told the court that there could be as many as 70,000 applications, which is the number of prisoners serving in the UK. The UK has until 11 October 2011 to implement the judgment.
Ben Quinn of The Guardian has published an excellent summary which includes the comparative position on prisoner votes in other European states:
The UK is one of several European countries, including Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary and Romania, which automatically remove voting rights from sentenced prisoners, although remand prisoners still have the vote.
An auspicious club to be a member of. The BBC also has a well-timed and interesting article asking whether European courts are “going too far”, and includes interviews with court spokesmen and MPs.
The way in which this issue has played out is a neat illustration of why human rights decisions have been delegated by Parliament to the courts, both domestic and European. The prime minister has said that giving prisoners the vote would make him “physically ill”, and Parliament has voted against implementing the European court’s judgment by an enormous majority. Many have railed against “unelected” European judges telling us what to do.
The basic point is that no MP will stand up for prisoners because the people who vote them in don’t want them to. If prisoners had the vote, they would have more of a voice in protecting their basic rights. But no representation means nobody to represent their views. Which is why unelected and therefore unpressurised judges may be the best ones to make decisions in respect of their rights. Lord Neuberger has recently said that ignoring the Strasbourg may be legally justifiable, but just because the government can do something does not mean that it should. So the clock is ticking, and the next move is the government’s.
Sign up to free human rights updates by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS