Friday, February 11, 2011

Prisoners' Right to Vote: Roll of Honour

Most MPs should hang their heads in shame for yesterday's display of scorn for human rights, ignorance of their meaning and sheer zenophobia. Let them all from Jack Straw downwards (Can one go lower than Jack Straw ?) go and work for Murdoch and the gutter press. I honour the 26 who voted against the resolution including Alan Beith, Tom Brake, Lorely Burt, Don Foster, Duncan Hames, Simon Hughes, Julian Huppert, Tessa Munt, Alan Reid, Stephen Williams. I honour especially Tom Brake, Lorely Burt and Kate Green for their unpopular but principled speeches.

I ask Mike Hancock, John Pugh and Bob Russell who supported the motion what they think they are doing in a Liberal party ? I ask the majority of MPs especially amongst them my MP David Laws, our party leader Nick Clegg and many other Liberal Democrats why they could not even be bothered to attend or vote in this debate on a question which should be meat and drink to a Liberal. There is always room for argument on economic policies but if we can't get these questions right, we serve no purpose in the British political scene.

I suppose I should not be surprised by the stupidity and ignorance of the majority of MPs on this subject. Some still confuse the European Court of Human Rights with the EU, perhaps deliberately. There is nothing undemocratic about accepting its judgements any more than those of any other court. The court derives its power in the UK from a treaty voluntarily signed by the UK government and ratified by the UK parliament. This case is about honouring our commitments. If we wish to resile from the European Convention, there are procedures for doing so but it would be a great loss to our country and our freedoms. Removing the right to vote has no value in penal policy. It neither punishes nor deters nor rehabilitates.


David Kessler Author said...

A couple of brief comments.

You say that "Removing the right to vote has no value in penal policy," but offer no evidence of your implied proposition that granting the right has rehabilitative value. I am familiar with the "it would encourage them to think about social issues" argument, but it is no more than conjecture.

You say that there is nothing undemocratic about accepting the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. But there is something deeply undemocratic in telling elected members of parliament that they should not vote in accordance with their consciences as to what human rights are and aren't.

Even if you believe that the definition of a human right is whatever the Court says it is, are you saying that MPs can be told how to vote in parliament by the judiciary. Are you saying that in the face of the Court ruling, every MP is obliged to vote in favour of giving all (or some) prisoners to vote. Or would you allow the dissenters the right to abstain? (You seem to imply in your blog that even abstention is not an option.)

If on the other hand one accepts the circuitous logic that the criminal-friendly judiciary used to reach their decision, then one arrives at an interesting conclusion regarding compensation. The Court held that because the Convention on Human Rights requires free and fair elections, the right of (at least some) prisoners to vote is a consequence of that right and that the blanket denial of the right causes the election to be neither free nor fair.

But the effect of any election (unlike say the right of a prisoner to reasonable healthcare) is collective rather than individual. Therefore it could be argued, applying the Court’s own logic, that the effect of denying prisoners the right to vote infringes the rights of society as a whole, to a free and fair election! And if one follows this reasoning to its logical conclusion then the disenfranchisement of criminals must be said to victimize the whole of society and not just the disenfranchised criminal himself. This means that all members of society are entitled to compensation in equal measure.

This conclusion may be counter-intuitive, but it is the inescapable conclusion of the Court’s own logic.

David said...

Sorry David Kessler not to have published your comment sooner. I need to check my blog more often. I started commenting but will reply more fully in a posting.

David said...

Correction. Parliament did NOT ratify the UK's adherence to the European Convention of Human Rights. That was a failing of our domestic political system where the Royal prerogative persists outside parliamentary control (perhaps the apoplectic tendency in the Commons should look at this). However, Parliament DID vote in 1998 to incorporate the convention into British law.