Many will feel morally conflicted about some prisoners having the vote, but it is important to rise above the noise and recognise that the issue has been primed to achieve other ends.
Those calling for a UK Bill of Rights have come to do so under the intellectual window-dressing of ‘subsidiarity’ – that the protection of human rights should be primarily a matter for nation States. This is an entirely respectable aim which should enjoy universal support. Yet this version of subsidiarity offers no measures to strengthen the protection of human rights at home, only measures to weaken the influence of the European Court of Human Rights including by giving Parliament the power to ‘override’ Court judgements with which it disagrees.
This is a profoundly undemocratic proposal, undermining as it does the rule of law and the separation of powers which, alongside an elected Parliament, underpin all healthy democracies. It is akin to a football team having the power to override the decisions of a referee when a match doesn't go its way. To those ends it will seriously undermine the UK’s moral authority in Europe and the world.
If Parliament votes against all government proposals which would allow the UK to respect the judgement of the ECtHR, it will place the UK in breach of its international human rights obligations and will have taken the first step towards the UK rejecting the authority if the Court. After all, if it can do it on this occasion, what is to stop Parliament defying the Court in relation to a whole host of judgments with which it takes umbrage in future, with MP’s whipped by the governing party or parties of the day to vote against compliance? To this end, it appears that the issue of prisoner votes is being employed as a ‘slippery slope’ strategy designed to achieve by stealth the ‘parliamentary override’ desired by those who wish to ultimately to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European Court.
There are few votes to be won in protecting the human rights of unpopular minorities. But in taking powers to override the rule of law, our politicians will assume far more responsibility for such difficult political decisions in future, without being able to justify their decisions and actions by reference to Court judgments beyond their control. The political price of compliance will be greater and risks forcing our politicians down the path of routine, deliberate non-compliance with human rights judgments - something not even those European countries with the worst records on human rights yet engage in. Is that what we have come to? Is this the message Britain wishes to send to the world?
MP’s who support human rights, democracy and the rule of law should focus on these high stakes, be brave and support modest legal measures to accord some prisoners the vote. The cost of doing so is relatively small. The price of not doing so is far too great.
In : Prisoner votes
Tags: "prisoner votes" "human rights"