Monday, 8 February 2010

The Prisoner Voting Rights Saga Rumbles On

The BBC reports that the Barred From Voting pressure group is panicking trying to put pressure on the government to lift the ban on prisoners' votes before the election.
The general election will break the law unless the ban on prisoners voting is lifted, a pressure group has warned.
Unlikely. The validity of 2007 Scottish Parliament election was never challenged despite this similar complaint which was upheld. Naturally John Hirst, he who took the UK to the ECHR over this issue, has picked this up (his emphasis):
The interim resolution is the penultimate stage for resolving the UK's problem. The next stage is that in March, my legal team will make submissions alleging systemic violation by the UK and seek that Hirst v UK(No2) is returned to the ECtHR for a ruling and invoke the final resolution. The Court then lays down in specific terms what the UK must do to comply with the judgment and within what time limit. A failure to comply will result in the UK being suspended from the Council of Europe. Although this is separate from the EU, because it is also a requirement that EU Member States abide by the Convention and ECtHR decisions, the UK will also be suspended or kicked out of the EU.
I think he's getting a little ahead of himself here. It's true that the Committee of Ministers could theoretically suspend the UK's membership and ask it to withdraw under Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, if it 'has seriously violated' human rights. But is denying convicted criminals the right to vote really a serious violation? Would other countries such as Russia who also don't have prisoner voting rights, vote to suspend the UK? I can think of far worse serious violations by countries who are members of the Council of Europe which has not resulted in their suspension. Italy has not been suspended for failing to implement the Lautsi v Italy judgment. Suspension of the UK from the Council of Europe is very very unlikely, more likely is that political pressure will be placed on the UK to embarrass them into action.

If by some miracle suspension should happen, Hirst then argues the UK will be kicked out of the EU (oh how I wish). No, it's never gonna happen. Ever. For a country the size and importance of the UK to leave would have enormous ramifications, for both us and the EU, and would shake the EU to its very foundations. Given that the Eurozone is currently on a plummet trajectory, the EU is absolutely desperate to try to keep their pet project above water; the last thing they will do is risk complete breakdown by kicking out one of the biggest net contributors, during an economic crisis. The UK being forced to exit is a complete non-starter.

Hirst continues:
I have gambled £20 with William Hill at 20/1 that all or the majority of prisoners will get the vote by the next general election.
I would've saved my money, it won't happen this side of the election for a number of reasons. Labour are, understandably, dragging their feet, they don't want the political implications of this just before an election. Any judgment will not be implemented in a hurry. Then there's the Brown factor. In order to give the likely incoming Tory administration the worst possible handover, Brown has been passing legislation that carefully places time bombs designed to go off at regular intervals throughout the next Parliament; the budget deficit bill, the equality bill, and possibly the AV referendum outcome. What could be better than a potential bust up with Europe, Brown will be desperate for this to blow up for the Tories after the election.

And most important of all it's a question of time. Leaving aside that there's a real possibility there could be an election in just under 7 weeks, a 6th May election requires dissolution on 12th April. The 1078th Committee of Ministers meeting which will consider Hirst's case runs from 2nd March to 4th March. This in effect leaves 5 weeks for the Committee to make a decision, return it to the ECHR, who then have to consider it, then pass judgment and then for Parliament to act on that judgment, all before dissolution. There simply isn't enough time, logistically, or legally for it to happen before the election.

A far better bet is that the Tories (if they win) will cave in to the Council of Europe within 50 days of the general election having taken place; the day after the Tories emergency budget when the headlines will be utterly dominated by the painful economic measures outlined- the perfect day to slip out some other unpopular news.

No comments:

Post a Comment