Thursday, 22 November 2012

Prisoners And Power (2)

In effect what has been announced today regarding prisoner's right to vote is an admission that Parliament chooses to be bound by European law - in whatever guise - in this case we can choose otherwise or to leave. Naturally there is legal wriggle room in today's statement to try to reject the proposal while remaining a member of the Council of Europe in form of 'international law vs Parliamentary sovereignty' which is an argument that is legally winnable on both sides.

But ultimately, and most importantly, it's also an admission that Parliament chooses to be bound by international agreements, thus choosing to be a member of the EU (our enemy lies within - Whitehall & MPs). Here's part of Chris Grayling's statement:
However, the Government are under an international law obligation to implement the Court judgement. As Lord Chancellor, as well as Secretary of State for Justice, I take my obligation to uphold the rule of law seriously. Equally, it remains the case that Parliament is sovereign, and the Human Rights Act 1998 explicitly recognises that fact. The current law passed by Parliament remains in force unless and until Parliament decides to change it. As Lord Justice Hoffmann put it in a case in 1999:
Parliamentary sovereignty means that Parliament can, if it chooses, legislate contrary to fundamental principles of human rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 will not detract from this power. The constraints upon its exercise by Parliament are ultimately political, not legal. But the principle of legality means that Parliament must squarely confront what it is doing and accept the political cost.
Last month, the Attorney-General made it clear in evidence to the Justice Committee that
“it is entirely a matter for Government to make proposals but ultimately for Parliament to determine what it wants to do. Parliament is sovereign in this area; nobody can impose a solution on Parliament, but the accepted practice is that the United Kingdom observes its international obligations”
So we come back to power, Parliament is so reluctant to abide by the ECHR ruling because the issue is so toxic because the people wish it so. Mr Grayling said there would be a "political cost" in doing so, But to whom? Not to the MPs who are supposed to represent us.

However we come to the sting in the tail, and what is so insidious in our membership of supranational institutions, Parliament forces itself to break the law it has passed because it is reluctant to repeal those laws it agrees largely with - against the wishes of those it is supposed to represent. Our own people power is not yet enough...

This is why I've been following this challenge with such interest. Exit for the EU or other European courts (established with the same aim as the EU for eventual political union) is not going to be on the back of arguments on tedious EU Directives but toxic issues such as this.

An axe murderer, who made a pot of coffee while waiting for his landlady to die, then with charmless, racist and homophobic arguments was always going to be a gem for tabloid headlines - influential as they are - which adds to the EU sceptic cause. I say ship him out to be interviewed more. (And I'm almost inclined to send Mr Hirst a crate of beer in thanks for his contribution for helping to get us out),

And the Pandora's box on prisoners' voting rights does not stop there, as James Landale at the BBC points out:
I am told that it is not actually the ECHR that is forcing the pace on this. The real issue that is concerning the government is a case sitting before the Supreme Court here in the UK and it is a case that could change the whole debate. George McGeoch is serving a life sentence in Dumfries prison for murdering a man in Inverness.

He is not arguing that the blanket ban on prisoner voting breaches his rights under the European Convention. He is arguing that his rights as an EU citizen are being infringed because he will not be able to vote for in the European Parliamentary elections in 2014.

The draft bill that Chris Grayling will publish this week will refer not just to prisoners' voting rights relating to domestic general and local elections. It will also refer to elections to the European Parliament.

So the hope in the Ministry of Justice is that the draft bill will delay - and ultimately sway - any decision by the Supreme Court on this matter so that Mr McGeoch does not end up with the vote.
And (my emphasis):
And that is an important hope. For if the Supreme Court did allow Mr McGeoch to get his name on the register of electors that would automatically allow thousands of other convicted prisoners around the UK to vote in European and municipal elections.

And many of them would demand compensation for past electoral moments they had missed. And that would be hugely expensive to the government. Ministers can in theory ignore unenforceable compensation orders from the ECHR. But they cannot do the same when the Supreme Court issues what are called Francovich damage orders, in other words, fines for breaking EU law.

So there would be a mess. The government would be forced to rush emergency legislation through Parliament. Compensation claims would come rushing in. So the key test for this Thursday's draft bill is not just what the judges in Strasbourg say. It is also how those judges sitting on the other side of Parliament Square respond.
A problem that will be accentuated by Article 6.2 of the Lisbon Treaty which requires the EU to join the Council of Europe and so come under ECHR rulings.

This is a mess of their making...they asked for it....we didn't, and I have no sympathy for the predicaments they find themselves in.

Oh what a web...

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