22 April 2010
A prisoner is suing the UK Government in the European Court of Human Rights for the right to vote in the upcoming General Election. With voting registration already closed, he won’t be voting in the election, but he may receive compensation. This could open the door to claims from tens of thousands of prisoners in the UK.
The BBC reports that Leon Punchard, 19, who is serving an 18-month sentence at Norwich prison for burglary, has filed an application to the European Court for a declaration and compensation.
We have already posted on the ban on prisoners voting (see here and here). Four years ago, the European Court of Human Rights criticised the policy in Hirst v UK, which arose out of the 2002 case of R v Home Secretary ex parte Hirst. The European Court held that Section 4 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 which prevents prisoners from voting is in breach of the electoral right under Article 1 of Protocol 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Government insists that it is still considering the responses to its second stage consultation on the issue, despite it closing over six months ago. With voter registration for the 2010 General Election closing on 20 April, prisoners will not get their chance to vote in a general election for at least a few more years.
However, Mr Prichard may well win a compensation payment from the UK Government, which the European Court of Human Rights has the power to award in cases where a contracting state has breached a citizen’s human rights. This could open the door to the other 87,883 serving prisoners to bring their own legal actions.
16 April 2010
The Lord Chief Justice used a recent lecture to argue that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is being given too much respect in the UK courts, with its judgments being cited by lawyers and judges with alarming regularity.
Joshua Rozenberg writing the Law Society Gazette suggests that Lord Judge’s lecture was in fact misunderstood by many in the media, who used the speech to “call for the judiciary to give the good old English common law supremacy over that nasty foreign stuff they make in ‘Alsace, France’”
The issue an important one, as it goes to the heart of the debate over whether the Human Rights Act 1998 should be repealed. The original intention of the 1998 Act was to “bring rights home”; in other words, to prevent decisions on matters of great public importance and local sensitivity being decided in Strasbourg rather than the UK. Before the 1998 Act, the only human rights cases which could be cited were from Strasbourg. But the UK courts now have almost ten years of home-grown human rights case law to consider. The effect of the 1998 Act was therefore to diminish the relevance of ECtHR cases, and the Lord Chief Justice was reminding lawyers of this point.
Analysing the speech, it is clear that Lord Judge’s main complaint was that too many lawyers cite ECtHR authorities at inappropriate times, and that modern technology (including, it would seem, overzealous use of copy and paste) has meant that too many European authorities are creeping back into arguments.
Section 2(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 states that a court determining a human rights question must “take into account” any “relevant” judgment of the ECtHR. However, as the Lord Chief Justice pointed out, unlike decisions of the European Court of Justice, “the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg do not bind our courts… What I respectfully suggest is that statute ensures that the final word does not rest with Strasbourg, but with our Supreme Court.”
Lord Judge also appears to despair of lawyers and even judges’ use of copy and paste. He said:
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12 April 2010
Prisoners will be unable to vote in the general election despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling almost five years ago that the blanket ban was unlawful.
The House of Lords discussed the issue in the small hours of 7 April 2010 when Lord Ramsbotham, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, tabled an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill which would have removed the ban.
Lord Ramsbotham lamented that the Government was “frightened of offending reactionary public opinion by appearing not to be tough on criminals” and “determined to prevaricate for as long as possible, going to absurd lengths, such as suggesting that prisoners had lost the moral authority to vote.”
The Government insists that it is still considering the responses to its second stage consultation, despite it closing over six months ago.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has also expressed serious concern, noting that the Government risks not only political embarrassment at the Council of Europe, but will be in breach of its international obligation to secure the full enjoyment of Convention rights for everyone within its jurisdiction.
6 April 2010
We posted last week on Carson and Others v The United Kingdom (read judgment), in which the European Court of Human Rights rejected a claim that UK pensioners living abroad should have their pensions index-linked (i.e., that they be raised in line with inflation).
It turns out that it is not just the UK, or indeed Europe, being affected by the long reach of the ECtHR. Alison Steed in The Daily Telegraph reports that the Australian Government are footing the bill for 170,000 ex-pat British pensioners living there. They have said in response to the judgment:
“The Australian government believes this policy is discriminatory. We have been actively lobbying the UK government on this issue… This policy continues to place an increasing burden on all Australian taxpayers, as the Australian government picks up the tab for around 170,000 UK pensioners who also receive means-tested Australian pensions – estimated at about A$100 million (£60 million) per year in additional social security payments.”
Australia ended its social security agreement with the UK in 2001 in light of this issue, which affects around 500,000 ex-pat UK pensioners living worldwide.
- 28 March 2010 post
- The ECtHR judgment
- Our case summary of Carson; Reynolds v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (May 2005 – House of Lords, 2003 – Court of Appeal)
- Media coverage of the Carson judgment in The Guardian and on the BBC website
2 April 2010
Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, has used the annual Judicial Studies Board (JSB) lecture to complain that the English courts were being influenced too heavily by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
This is becoming something of a tradition at the annual JSB lecture. Lord Hoffman used the same platform last year (read lecture here) to criticise the ECtHR, saying it had been “unable to resist the temptation to aggrandise its jurisdiction and to impose uniform rules on Member States.”
In this year’s lecture, Lord Judge suggested that “statute ensures that the final word does not rest with Strasbourg, but with our Supreme Court” and that the Luxembourg-based ECtHR was encroaching on the legal territory of its Strasbourg cousin, the European Court of Justice.
The full lecture can be found here, or you can read more of the address after the page break below:
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24 March 2010
According to Alex Bailin QC and Alison Macdonald writing in The Guardian, the European Court of Human Rights will soon have much needed power to filter cases at an early stage, and therefore begin to clear its huge backlog of cases:
Fortunately, in January a significant stalemate was broken when Russia finally ratified a six-year-old provision which will speed up the court’s processing of cases. Protocol 14 provides for a more robust and rapid filter of weak cases, with a single judge having the power to declare wholly unmeritorious cases inadmissible, without any right of appeal. “Repetitive cases” can also be blocked if a relevant ruling on similar issues has already been given. Most controversially, the court can also refuse to hear cases in which the applicant has suffered “no significant disadvantage”, providing the case was properly considered by the domestic courts in the relevant state. Russia had previously blocked the entry into force of Protocol 14 in protest at what it considered were “political rulings” of the Strasbourg court, primarily relating to the conduct of its operations in Chechyna.
One immediate effect which the change will have on the UK, according to the authors, is in relation to prisoners voting rights. Until now, even though the Court has criticised the UK in relation to this issue, the criticisms have not led to an actual change in UK policy. However, as a result of Protocol 14:
The Committee of Ministers can refer a case back to the European court if it considers that the state has not fully complied with a decision of the court. If the court agrees, the committee can decide to take action against the state for noncompliance – including, in theory, suspension or expulsion from the Council of Europe