Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Is the Government stalling on Prisoner Voting Rights?

John Hirst, who was convicted of killing his landlady with an axe, has long campaigned for voting rights for prisoners, something which I fundamentally object to, and I would imagine so would a large proportion of the British public.

As part of his fight, Hirst took the the issue to the European Court of Human Rights, but despite winning in 2005, the UK Government has yet to implement the Court's judgment 4 years later, much to the frustration of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers.

In a recent Interim Resolution, the CoM has not only indicated its frustration at the substantial delay, but also that the next GE election faces a significant risk of failing to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

So is the Government deliberately stalling and does it intend to grant prisoner's the right to vote in advance of the next election?

Given that granting voting rights to prisoners is unlikely to popular, any delay would be entirely understandable, Tom Harris MP certainly thinks so (my emphasis in bold):

Do I give a stuff that the Council of Europe is a bit annoyed at the UK for (ahem!) dragging our feet on implementing the court’s ruling? No, not really.
However, the issue of the ECHR's judgment, and the Government's slow response was raised in the House of Lords yesterday, and after some protracted non-answers by Lord Bach, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Justice, was this exchange (again me in bold):
Lord Pannick: My Lords, does the Minister accept that one reason for the considerable concern about the extraordinary length of time that the Government have taken to implement a decision dated 6 October 2005 is that they appear deliberately to be delaying this matter until after the next general election? Can the Minister give the House an unequivocal assurance that that is no part and has been no part of the Government's motivation?

Lord Bach: Yes.

So whom to believe?

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