One of our regular viewers on 18 Doughty Street and a regular commenter on this blog is jailhouselawyer. His real name is . John Hirst and he has strong views on the issue of prisoners being given the right to vote. It was he (while serving a sentence for manslaughter) who took the government to the European Court of Human Rights and won. As a result, the government, through gritted teeth, has issued a consultation document today outlining the possible ways forward..
At the last election the LibDems supported giving prisoners, including murderers and rapists, the right to vote. Mark Oaten believes now it cost them many votes. Nick Clegg has now reversed their position.
Government ministers are privately spitting blood about being forced down this road, but apparently the British government has never ignored an ECHR judgement so they think their hands are tied.
I remain of the view that if society judges your offence to be so serious that you should lose your liberty you should also lose your freedom to elect the government.
In the new year I'm going to invite John Hirst and a range of guests onto 18 Doughty Street to discuss the issue at length.
"Mark Oaten believes now it cost them many votes."
Nowhere near as many as would have been cost if Mr Oaten had becone party leader and his owh 'brown-shirting' activity had become public shortly before a General Election!
Why do you give this idiot houseroom?
A good idea.
Actually I would go further. Look, one way and another prisoners get a raw deal. They are banged up, 24/7, and made to share with some unpleasant people (as Fletcher said, "hide your snout,Godber, there are a lot of thieves in here")
Recently a failed asylum seeker who raped a 13 year old girl was awarded £50,000 damages because the judge said he was in prison a wee bit too long, pending deportation. I hope he gets a plasma TV and a decent council house.
The best thing is to let them all out and make them promise to be good citizens. Then we could have a whole new raft of social workers and probation officers to attend to their needs and ensure that they are cared for properly.
They should also be recommended for all-prisoner shortlists, since I gather that criminals, rapists and murderers are currently under represented in Parliament (Jeffrey Archer excepted)
Do me a favour!
What about political prisoners? Or those who have been imprisoned for breaking the law in defiance of Govt. policy? I would rather go to prison than be forced to carry an ID card. Does that mean I should lose my right to replace the Govt. that introduced the things in the first place?
Where does your link between physical liberty and the right to have a vote come from? Prisoners are still entitled to protection under the law of their other rights (barring liberty od course), why not the right to vote?
Presumably those incarcarated are to be released at some point, shouldn't they have a say in choosing the type of political environment into which they are released? In any case, Govts. have a say in prison policy. Doesn't this have a direct effect on prisoners?
We should give prisoners the vote for the same reasons we no longer make people outlaws. We hear talk about rehabilition, maybe giving prisoners a stake in society through the ballot box would be a start.
Interesting Iain , I am really enjoying your blog again , did it dip a bit ?
What about no taxation no representation as a new suffrage. In cash nexus the relationship between taxed and voters is described as crucial and it clearly is.If you can be nothing but adrain on Society and vote why not actually be a criminal and vote
You can see Kirsty Young kebabing Charlie K on this here:
Newmania: It's an interesting argument, and one I use against 16 year olds who want the right to vote claimiming they are old enough to pay tax. If there is a nexus, should we then take votes away from pensioners and the disabled? What about farmers and business people claiming subsidies? And what about VAT? 5 year olds pay that, should we consider giving them votes? In any case, the number of 16 year olds earning enough to pay income tax is minute. Seperate issue I know, but it does show that the right to vote isn't necessarily linked to earning capacity, and shouldn't nec. be linked to ones status as a prisoner.
When you commit a criminal act, you do so knowing you may have to forego your right of free movement and your right to vote if you are caught. What is it with you people? These people commit crimes knowing what they are risking if they lose.
Why are people so eager to protect other people from consequences of their freely-chosen actions? Prisoners should retain their ability to decide who governs Britain. Incorrect answer.
Some drug-addicted prostitutes got murdered, so let's weaken society further and make drugs free to all so people won't have to become prostitutes.
How about, if people are late with their mortgage payments because they spent way too much money on Christmas presents, the government should have to pay their mortgage for them? Rachel North and her sob sister ilk would love that one.
John Hope wants prisoners to be taught "soft skills" such as punctuality and team building. Maybe his view would be that a vote is part of a team building exercise. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the current prison population over 19 has ever voted. Do you have that statistic?
Do your bird. Keep your nose clean. Stay friendly but cautious with the screws and the headcases. don't touch the drugs. Avoid the nonces. Don't vote - plausible deniability ensues.
Plus lags like me still reckon that loss of liberty means loss of right to vote as a small but essential part of the punishment.
People who don't follow society's rules shouldn't have a say on what those rules should be.
Mind you, you'd soon have The Felons Party putting up candidates anywhere there was a sizeable nick...
I can't believe anyone has come up with such a ludicrous idea (in my opinion). Other than the most basic human rights that keep them alive, prisoners should have no rights. If you don't want to do the time, don't do the crime (but reintroduce "innocent until proven guilty").
Of course this means if they had stripped Archer of his title BEFORE he went to prison then he'd have had a vote.
This issue is a joke. Of course prisoners should not have the vote. End of story.
a) Issue of votes for felons arises on the day that
b) Blair is questioned by Plod...
"In the new year I'm going to invite John Hirst and a range of guests onto 18 Doughty Street to discuss the issue at length."
Going to share a stretch in the joint are we?
Thanks for putting this issue up on your blog.
I am not in favour of the consultation document introduced by the government, whether prisoners should be allowed the vote. Churchill famously said, no more jaw, jaw, its war, war. The time for talking is over. The government had every opportunity to talk about this before it went to court. They even used judges who supported the Executive to try and prevent the issue from getting a fair hearing. Then I won the case at the ECtHR. The government appealed to the Grand Chamber, and lost. All that remains is for the UK to fulfil its obligations under the Convention and implement the Court's decision.
On the day that the government lost its appeal, I was being interviewed by Jenny Hill of BBC Look North, when I was phoned by a journalist from AP who gave me the result. He could only give me the gist of it because the Court had not at that time published the full judgment. However, at the same time, the Lord Chancellor was being interviewed for the World At One. He gave his interpretation of the judgment before he had the opportunity to read it. He was saying who would and who would not get the vote. He was wrong to do this because he cannot overrule the Court's decision. Why is nobody from the Tory Party putting him on the spot for this? It was not me that put the government in the whole, but the Lord Chancellor.
You are wrong to claim that the British government has never ignored an ECtHR judgment. I have evidence that it has so far ignored 50 decisions, including the prisoners votes case. Moreover, the UK has the worst record of human rights violations in Europe with Italy coming a poor second with half as many violations.
Whatever people think about criminals and prisoners, this is hardly a record to be proud of is it?
I don't know anything about "Jail House Lawyer" and I wish him well, but it does sound like he is really wasting our time and money. It's more than just a stupid idea; it's totally incoherent. Prisoners don't live in a normal constituency; they don't experience normal life; they have relinquished their right to do so. There's no point giving them the vote, and I can hardly imagine that many of them would particularly want it. If I were in prison, I don't believe it would be uppermost on my mind; getting out would be.
It would be more coherent (though still not sensible) to argue that all prisoners should be released immediately on a civil liberties rationale.
Verity, you took the words right out of my mouth.
And since drug injecting prostitutes are now to be known as "street workers" (Newspeak dictionary, 121th Edition) let us now call paedophiles "child admirers" - much less confrontational and moralistic.
Political Correctness means not thinking—not needing to think. Political Correctness is unconsciousness. (everyone who reads this blog should know where I got that from)
If they have to pay tax when they get out, they must be given the vote.
Jaibird lawyer - Britain has more human rights offences than the rest of the signatories to the EU festival of fascism? Good.
Their definition of "human rights" is demented and destructive. As is yours.
The Government should perhaps concentrate on ensuring that next time round all of our soldiers abroad get to vote- that would be a nice start...
All prisoners serving over six months at her majesty's pleasure should be forced to have an intimate encounter with a clone of verity - that'll get them folding their pyjamas under their pillows in the morning and ironing them again before they put them on at night!! And voting would bethe last thing on their mind.
Inviting convicted killers on to 18DS Mr. Dale? Is that such a wise idea?
Is inviting a convicted killer onto 18DS such a wise idea Mr. Dale.
If you commit a crime and jailed for it, it stands to reason that lose the right to vote. Damn the EU and their "criminal rights" legislation.
An open letter to Lord Falconer:
It is reported at http://politics.guardian.co.uk
that you said the government stilled backed the ban. The ECtHR has ruled that the ban is a breach of human rights. You are responsible for human rights in this country. Do you or do you not now support human rights? A simple yes or no answer will suffice.
You are reported as saying: "The right to vote in the UK is considered by many to be a privilege...". A right is a right, and a privilege is a privilege. A right is an entitlement, whereas a privilege is not a right but something, perhaps, John Reid might grant a prisoner if he or she is a good boy or good girl. We are not talking about patronage, here, you patronising fool! The ECtHR clearly ruled that in a democracy in the 21st century, the vote is a right and not a privilege. So, why are you still waffling on like this?
The ECtHR ruled that there is no link between crime and the vote, therefore your talk about the seriousness of the offence has no bearing on this issue. Your social contract argument found no favour with the Court did it? So, why are you still harping on about it? The Court also ruled that it was not proper nor proportionate to have this ban, so I have caught you out being less than truthful on this issue. Why do you not come clean on this?
Your stressing that entitling all prisoners to vote was not an option, is in direct contravention of the Court ruling. Are you now claiming that you are a higher authority than the highest Court in Europe? Don't push me, I don't take prisoner.
Jaibird Lawyer - If your story is true, you deprived someone of his human rights in a very permanent sense. It wasn't just a temporary cessation of one specific "human right" for your victim. It was every human right he possessed up until the time he died at your hands.
I doubt whether many people have much interest in your considered opinions on EU "human rights" legislation or anything else.
Some of them are lucky to have the right to breathe.
Not a choice they give their victims.
Prisoners right to vote?! My arse!
The lunatics have taken over the asylum.
Fine give all prisoners the right to vote.
However make it a legal requirement to turn out to the polling station. (Obviously if your out the country you can post a vote)
There they now have the right to vote, but cant because they are in prison.
A nasty thought.
The individual responsible for the recent murders.
Anyone care to explain to the British public why he will retain the vote when they catch him?
I accuse the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton of being not only intellectually dishonest but also of being corrupt in this affair. The issue is "Voting Rights of Convicted Prisoners Detained within the United Kingdom". However, the subheading is not factually accurate and contains government spin on the truth to create the impression that the inaccurate statement is true. It is accurate in so far as it states "-The UK Government's response". However, it is not true to claim that it is "to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case of Hirst v.The United Kingdom". This is because the judgment states one thing, and the politician asks himself a different question, and answers some of it himself, then purports to throw the whole thing open for consultation, when in fact it has been drafted by a decision-maker who has approached the subject with a closed mind. This is unlawful under the WEDNESBURY reasonableness test. This is not "A consultation produced by the Department for Constitutional Affairs". This is just another dodgy document.
Posted by jailhouselawyer at 11:21 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Labels: Another dodgy document: Lord Chancellor's Consultation Paper on Prisoners Voting Rights.
The reality of John Hirst, aka jailhouselawyer, can be seen from the following article about him, his crime and the consequences:
It's not like i'm killing someone now because there's no lids for my jam jars
He moved into her house on June 12. Eleven days later, in the evening, Mrs Burton was watching a Judy Garland film on television when Hirst appeared in the sitting room to say he was going out. He says she then nagged him: he claims she didn't want him to go out.
It has to be said that Hirst has a slight tendency to pathologise his victim. "She'd had six or seven ex-offenders living there," he says, "and they couldn't bear her. She was unbearable. She stole our food. It was as though I was her carer, and I was so fragile it was unbelievable. I was like a walking time bomb. She claimed she had been in a concentration camp. She was trying to control my life and ... wanted to be waited on hand and foot. I had my own life to lead."
She asked him to put some coal on the fire. He went out, muttering under his breath, wishing she would leave him alone, and walked to the shed where the coal was kept. As he filled the bucket, he looked up and saw an axe hanging on the wall. He walked back to the house, and when he reached the kitchen he told himself not to be stupid, so he put down the axe.
"Then she started on me again," he says. When he came in from collecting the second load of coal, he picked it up again, switched on the kettle and went through to the sofa where Mrs Burton was lying. He hit her seven times. "I used the blunt end," he says matter-of-factly. As he speaks about it, Hirst lifts his cigarette tin to simulate the top of the axe and uses the ashtray in front of him to indicate Mrs Burton's head. "It could have been anyone," he says. "In the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Were you relieved?" I ask.
"Yeah," he says. "I put the kettle on. I've killed her. I've heard the kettle go click. I've gone back and carried on making the brew. Then I sat down to drink it and that's when I'm having a fag ... and that's the relief, the pressure's gone. I've looked down at my feet and thought of that line from Laurel and Hardy: that's another fine mess you've got yourself into. As I'm sat there, I'm thinking, well, I'll get a life sentence and maybe I can study for a degree or something."
In Mr Hirst's own words from one of his comments above:
"Whatever people think about criminals and prisoners, this is hardly a record to be proud of is it?"
Whatever one may think of our current government, the belief that Mr Hirst obviously has that he has any right or moral justification to lecture the government on this matter is breathtaking. A life-long period of silence, remorse and reflection would be appropriate, not this self-interested and self-indulgent posturing.
jailhouse lawyer was lucky to get manslaughter. What do you have to do to be a murderer nowadays?
I posted a very reasoned, certainly not offensive short argument on his blog, in reply to his impassioned prospectus. It has not been published. In fact no comments have been published.
Could it be he is in a crowd of one with his position?
We don't hang people any more, and that is right. Capital Punishment is a thing of the past. But that does not mean that murderers should be let out, ever, let alone vote.
(Notice his rationale -
As I'm sat there, I'm thinking, well, I'll get a life sentence and maybe I can study for a degree or something.")
Prison is not a university, it's to keep people who have no concern for the lives of others out of circulation.
I went to the link, for which much thanks (I guess, although it left me nauseated), Anonymous 12:48.
Why did he get off with "manslaughter" rather than murder?
Does our host, Iain, who is a gentle and courteous soul, really want to give airspace to this killer to lecture the world on the "human right" to vote while incarcerated?
What legitimacy do this individual's opinions have, Iain? He is abnormal. He took an innocent human being's human right to be alive away from her forever. And from her family who loved her.
And you're going to let him explain some of the finer points of the EHRC's points on human rights law on 18 Doughty Street?
For the record, wrinlked weasel's comment went in at 6.45pm and I posted a response to him at 9.07pm, the evidence is there for anybody to see, so I am not guilty of the charge he accuses me of at 1.32am!
For the record, my life is a matter of public record. I am an open book. I have been judged in an open court and received my sentence. The custodial part was 10 years longer than the 15 years the judge stated I should serve. I do not permit anybody to judge me any further on my past behaviour. If some people do not like that. Tough shit.
I am now in the position to judge. Once the tariff of 15 years for retribution and deterrence was served, I owed society nothing. They were not entitled to the extra 10 years. And, neither was the State. At some stage I hope that the State will compensate me for the 10 years of false imprisonment. In the meantime, I will exercise my human right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Convention.
I have been a law-abiding citizen since 1990. As a reward for this good behaviour, the State kept subjecting me to unlawful treatment at the hands of the Prison Service. Nevertheless, it did not succeed in making me re-offend again. I walked out a better man.
This is what prison is supposed to do, make people come out better than when they went in. In large measure, I thank the present Director General of the Prison Service, Phil Wheatley, for discovering that nugget of gold in me, which Winston Churchill has famously said, in 1910, is in every man. I would argue that it is not fools gold. I would also like to thank Ron Cooper the educationalist in the Special Unit of Hull Prison who gave me the best education he could in spite of the system.
Also the Professors and Masters of Law from the University of Hull, who taught me and learnt from me. I went from law breaker to law-maker, and still there are those who wish to condemn me. Well you have got to live with that fear, ignorance and prejudice. I look at Rachel of North London, she is light in your darkness. A true Candle in the Wind. She is not bitter and twisted because she knows it will only eat her up inside.
I don't ask for people to like me. I don't give a shit. I am what I am, and what you see is what you get. It has been said that I am too truthful. I do not believe that anybody can be that. However, I understood what he meant to say. And that is some people do not like the truth because it can hurt. How ever painful that is, surely it is better than living a lie?
The world has gone mad. It's OK to deprive people of their liberty, as a punishment, but not to deprive them of their right to vote?
Loss of liberty is a huge matter (though entirely justified as a punishment for serious offences, or to protect the public). It is perfectly reasonable and proportionate that they should lose the right to vote too -- along with the right to go home, or the right to go down to the pub for a swift half!
From Mr Hirst's comment above:
"I am now in the position to judge. Once the tariff of 15 years for retribution and deterrence was served, I owed society nothing"
We can see the 'I've paid my debt to society' argument. As Theodore Dalrymple has so ably written on this:
When prisoners are released from prison, they often say that they have paid their debt to society. This is absurd, of course: crime is not a matter of double-entry bookkeeping. You cannot pay a debt by having caused even greater expense, nor can you pay in advance for a bank robbery by offering to serve a prison sentence before you commit it. Perhaps, metaphorically speaking, the slate is wiped clean once a prisoner is released from prison, but the debt is not paid off.
Mr Hirst owes society, and the relatives of his Landlady whom he killed, a great deal. What is owed can not only be measured in monetary terms but also in his future conduct. As Mr Hirst is on a discretionary life sentence I would suggest a period of 20-30 years of law-abiding conduct would be suitable before Mr Hirst should presume to lecture us and this government.
People feel the need to condemn you “jailhouselawyer” because of your hectoring and confrontational style. There is also something objectionable about someone convicted of such a grievous offence seeing fit to lecture the rest of us on morality and hypocrisy when there is no sight of remorse or empathy in any of your writing. However I would say that you should try to distinguish between antipathy for your views and antipathy for you personally. There is very little of the later and if you adopted a less agressive tone I’d imagine there would be none at all.
In one of your posts you take issue with the assertion that voting is a privilege and not a right. You should consider that every single right that can be expressed in law has caveats. The right to liberty is lost if you break the law, the right to family life is lost if you abuse your children, the right to life is lost if you run amok with a gun, the right to free expression or follow any religion is lost if you incite violence and the right to vote for the government of society should be lost if you show a complete disrespect for that society by breaking it’s laws.
You may have won a round in court but the majority of people in this country will find this ruling intolerable and ultimately democracy is rule by the people and not rule by court order.
I do not permit anybody to judge me any further on my past behaviour. If some people do not like that. Tough shit.
So you killed someone because they nagged you? Nice. I fear that, whether you like it or not, your credibility is fast ebbing away to zero. As a matter of interest, did you ever get round to offering an apology or any form of reparation to the family of Mrs Burton, or have you been too busy with your fatuous campaign?
Hey Iain, some friendly advice. When you interview Hirst, whatever you do, don't nag!
rk: My personal officer in Hull Prison Special Unit, Trevor Drewery, died recently, and I miss him. No doubt there would have been prison officer's at his funeral, on seeing me there, who wished it could have been me instead of him in the coffin. I recall Trevor saying in my defence, "John is right 99.99% of the time. It's the way that he says it that is wrong. It could be down to my Aspergers Syndrome (a form of autism), or the critical approach taught at OU, or the adversarial style associated with law. In any event, you are right in some of what you say.
I recall the police surgeon taking intimate samples from me upon arrest, and he did not ask me one question in relation to the offence. Remarkably, he opined in his report that I showed no sign of remorse. This view was then repeated by other report writers and it became a "fact". Fourteen years later, I came across a couple of Court of Appeal decisions which stated that someone handing themselves into the police can be seen as a strong sign of remorse. The Prison Service altered its view when I brought these cases to its attention. Personally, I think its an internal thing and I do not intend opening that can of worms again.
One of the accusations levelled at me was that I was almost totally amoral. It was untrue. As was the label that I was a psychopath. I was judged to be semi-illiterate and below average intelligence. Actually, I am almost totally innumerate and have an IQ of 155. I take some time for people to get to know me, and let them into my world. If people condemned less they would learn more.
The Detective Inspector in my case thought he had a serial killer. He gave a secret report to the judge at my hearing. The trial went on behind closed doors in the judge's chambers, and my barrister was not allowed to defend me because he was not a party to the secret report. He told me before I went into open court that the judge had given me a life sentence. The let justice seen to be done, in open court was a mockery of justice. For me, the real trial was coming face to face with my victim's daughter. Here was another victim I had not expected. The trial she subjected me to was what brought home the enormity of what I had done. And, that I and I alone have to live with. She has publicly stated that nothing can change her initial view of me. She is entitled to that position. But, I had to move on for my own sake. It is not a battle I can win, so I don't go there.
The ECtHR stated that it was not a popular cause. And legally stuck two fingers up to public opinion: "Nor is there any place under the Convention system, where tolerance and broadmindedness are the acknowledged hallmarks of a democratic society, for automatic disenfranchisement based purely on what might offend public opinion".
For now, I rest my case.
Anonymous 10:39 - You took the words right out of my mouth. What is this, "paid my debt to society"?? Jailbird Lawyer is a convicted murderer. No monetary value, in our society, can be put on the unlawful death of another human being. What you have done, Jailbird, is served out the punishment society served on you. You have not paid a debt.
You are boring, trite, self-justifying, self-regarding and long-winded. You are also a murderer who stole a human life. You have no credibility. You are a violent man and the hostility and aggression come out in your posts and also your inappropriate campaign.
You said in an earlier post, doubtless in an attempt to add lustre to your self-image, "I don't take prisoners." Neither do many of us commenting on this blog. If Iain does, for whatever reason, decide to have a unrepentant murderer of an old woman on Doughty Street as a guest, I for one will not be watching.
I note your curious lack of remorse. You stole every human right that lady possessed up until the moment you killed her. Do not lecture us on human rights.
There is a valid point to be made here, but the individual making the point is not respected by me at least because of his arrogant approach. The issue though should not be negated by the criminal idiot making it.
roger helmer: "It is perfectly reasonable and proportionate that they should lose the right to vote". Not a perfectly reasonable and proportionate response to the Court's judgment is it? You fail to clarify your statement with logical support. It sounds more like a fart to me. I would be interested to hear of anything new you could come up with which the government has not already argued and lost?
Iain: I like your comments "through gritted teeth", and "ministers are privately spitting blood". They made me chuckle at the thought of what I had done to them. I used to watch PMQs in prison and enjoyed the verbal fights. It is odd, that instead of there being an opposition here the parties are united against this fictional common enemy. And, the LibDems joined the other two parties in the latrine, after the Court judgment which proved they had been right all along.
I have read the consultation document. I am puzzled why money was wasted on producing this, to be followed by a further consultation process, when really all Parliament has to do is legislate on the issue. It is odd that even a blanket ban is open for consultation, when the government knows that is not on the cards. And, the total franchise is not open for consultation when there is nothing preventing this in law. I am thinking about challenging this dodgy document by way of judicial review. No doubt if I do decide to mount a further legal challenge, there will be even more gritted teeth and spitting blood.
Democracy is a system whereby the government is responsible to the people. However implicit in this is that the people should be responsible. otherwise it descends into a system where people are voting merely to divvy up as much of the national cake as possible.
Since, by definition, those in prison have not accepted their social responsibilities they should not be allowed to decide how society is run.
This was also the theory on why undischarged bankrupts didn't vote. This could also be used to justify not giving the vote to those entirely on benefit (or indeed to those like farmers on other sorts of high government subsidy).
Neil Craig - I am going to wheel out my old warhorse again in the hope that one day, someone will pick up on the idea.
People who are not contributing to society should not have the vote (save OAP's, who presumably contributed to society for many years and are now excused further service).
I would say - and it will be easy to do in this computerised age - that anyone who has been unemployed and on benefits for six months should be taken off the voters' register until he/she starts to contribute again.
I would extend the disenfranchisement to the entire public sector, except the military.
neil craig: As you say, the government is responsible to the people. And prisoners are people. Prisoners have accepted social responsibility, in that they have accepted the punishment. Therefore, they shoud be allowed the vote. It is nonsense to talk about stripping those on benefits from having the vote. I suppose you will be thinking of reintroducing the gas chambers next?
Saturday, December 16, 2006
I came across the following load of crap in the Torygraph. Although they invited comments, no comments are recorded. I submitted my comment, which they did not publish, so I add it here and the end of this piece of garbage.
Prisoners don't care about their right to vote
By Jonathan Aitken
Last Updated: 2:56am GMT 15/12/2006
Comment on this story Read comments
Of all the troublesome problems and pressures facing Britain's ever-increasing prison population, the one that led to yesterday's judgement by the European Court of Human Rights on votes for prisoners must rank in importance about as high as tiddlywinks does in the Olympics.
The ECHR's advice (and I hope our MPs remember that in constitutional terms it is no more than advice) for the UK Government to give prisoners the right to vote while serving their sentences will no doubt get a full hearing and airing by the chattering classes.
But the criminal classes are likely to be less impressed. I can offer some well-informed guesses about how my old cellmates in HMP Belmarsh might react to the news that their Christmas present from Brussels is to be a new right to put their crosses on ballot papers from behind bars.
Indifference, incomprehension or dismissive expletives would be their likely responses. By contrast there would be serious interest in almost anything that improved their prison living conditions or their post-release employment prospects. So it needs to be recognised that this issue is much more about the priorities of European lawyers than the anxieties of British prisoners.
Let's hope that Parliament will be given the chance to debate and vote on this judgement by the ECHR for it raises moral, practical and constitutional questions that go deeper than the Whitehall establishment's usual reaction to questionable ECHR pronouncements: "We never refuse to write the Court's judgement into UK statute law."
The moral argument for ignoring the ECHR's advice starts with the commonsense view that prison is meant to be a punishment. A custodial sentence has always resulted in loss of freedom and loss of democratic rights for the duration of a prisoner's sentence. Why change that? Is there any moral imperative for such a change?
According to John Hirst, the former life sentence prisoner now released on licence who won his case before the ECHR: "The human rights court has agreed with us that the Government's position is wrong – it doesn't matter how heinous the crime, everyone is entitled to have the basic human right to vote."
The problem here is that what Mr Hirst and the European judges consider a basic human right is the opposite of what many human rights respecting nations including Britain, the United States and Australia, have long considered to be basic common sense.
The main point of a prison sentence is to show the offender and society as a whole that criminal behaviour results in loss of freedom and most of the rights that freedom offers.
Different societies may wish to argue about precisely which rights should be suspended along with liberty as the cost to the individual of criminal wrongdoing. But the place for this argument to be held is in national legislatures who even in today's EU still have control over criminal laws and penalties.
To pretend that voting is something as "basic" as the right of access to a lawyer is at best special pleading and at worst judicial meddling in the right of EU member states to decide how they will punish their criminal offenders.
The practical reasons for opposing the legislative changes required by the ECHR judgement will be less obvious to outsiders than insiders. But to give an insight into the problems which could be created for prison officers by this new voting right for prisoners, let us make an imaginary visit to the Isle of Sheppey in the General Election of 2008 where the sitting Labour MP, Derek Wyatt will be defending a majority of 79.
I know one part of Mr Wyatt's electorate all too well, the three prisons on the island – HMPs Swaleside, Elmley and Standford Hill – for I was incarcerated in two of them. Between them these jails currently house 2,224 inmates. They probably make up the biggest single interest group in the constituency.
Will Mr Wyatt and his opposing candidates be allowed to canvass the prisoners, to address them at public meetings and to answer their questions? If not will yet more "basic rights" be infringed in the opinion of the ECHR?
But even if some modicum of common sense prevails, these prison voters will be sure to be highly interested, if not highly excited by the promises they are or are not made by the competing candidates via letter and leaflet.
So spare a thought for the prison officers of Sheppey, who already often struggle in a tinderbox situation to maintain order, calm and discipline. Suddenly they will have to cope with the atmospherics of a marginal seat during the run-up to an election in which every vote counts.
"Getting lairy with the screws" (uppity and argumentative – or worse – with the officers) is already an occupational hazard in the prisons of Sheppey. Charles Dickens' Eatanswill by-election will seem tame by comparison to what might happen among the imprisoned voters of Mr Wyatt's constituency.
It is possible that this imaginary Eatanswill/Sheppey situation that I envisage might be avoided by only allowing prisoners to vote in their own constituencies, although this will be easier said than done because so many prisoners are of "no fixed abode" and others are truly local to their neighbourhood prison.
But whatever the circumstances in whatever the prison voting rights are bound to create tensions, dramas and probably excuses for inmate-to-inmate violence at General Election time.
Unworldly judges sitting in European courts have no idea what life is like at the coalface of Britain's overcrowded prison system so they would probably pooh-pooh the previous paragraphs as exaggerated nonsense. Well, wait and see.
But long before that we will have to wait and see what happens in the House of Commons where much Parliamentary time will have to be expended on making legislative sense of this unwelcome Christmas present from the EHCR.
The Lord Chancellor on The World at One gave a dangerous hostage to fortune when he said yesterday, "Not every convicted prisoner is in the future going to get the right to vote … we need to look and see whether there are any categories that should be given the right."
Oh really? So are we going to have the umpteenth Criminal Justice Bill to categorise one criminal offence after another as qualifying or disqualifying a convicted prisoner for voting? Pull the other one Charlie!
Here's a better idea. The real constitutional issue behind the judgement of the ECHR's is the Court's indefatigable drive for uniformity within the EU. Because some nations in Europe have given their prisoners voting rights, Britain should now do the same, is what the Eurojudges are really saying.
Surely Britain's MPs should exercise their constitutional right and reject the ECHR's advice. Even if it would be the first time it happened that would be one "prison escape" which majority Parliamentary and public opinion would really approve of.
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A golden rule of writing is that author's should only write about what they know. Otherwise they are in danger of making a complete fool of themselves. Jonathan Aitkin should have borne this in mind when penning this piece of rubbish, which is best suited for the waste paper basket.
Prisoners do care about their right to vote. The editor might recall that it was the Daily Telegraph which broke the story about my setting up the Association of Prisoners. This was formed as a direct result of the European Convention being incorporated into the Human Rights Act (1998). And, it was a ballot of the members which decided that obtaining the vote was a priority.
Not only have you spelt judgment wrong, Jonathan, in my judgement, it was not yesterday, but 30th March 2004, when the the ECtHR handed down its judgment. Where have you been all this time, on Planet Zog? Twiddlywinks is a game, the Olympics sport. This is the world of politics. Welcome to it! I thought even you would have known this.
The ECtHR does not give advice. It makes decisions which are binding on Member States. Your advice to MPs, I suspect that they do not really want to hear what you have to say on the issue, is so out of date in this modern world and totally inaccurate. Had you given me this advice I would have sued you for negligence! The constitution has moved on from the days when you read it at public school. Grow up!
You are so well informed that this Xmas present comes from Brussels. Sprouts might. The Court is in Strasbourg! Wherever did you get this notion that Britain is a human rights respecting nation? It has the worst record of human rights violations in Europe. Moreover, there are 50 cases in which the UK has yet to remedy the human rights violations found against the State in the ECtHR.
I think it is a bit cheeky to claim that you are an insider. You were only in long enough for a shit and a shave! Even in there you were an outsider, someone not to be trusted. Anyone who tries to let someone else take the rap for their crime is deemed to be as low as a child molester.
Unworldly judges sitting in European Courts? They are far more wordly-wise than yourself Jonathan, and our judges in the main, and most of our politicians. I wish you well in whatever other profession you choose to dabble in. Leave the professionals to do what they know best.
Posted by jailhouselawyer at 1:44 PM 2 comments Links to this post
Labels: Jonathan Aitkin wins dickhead of the year award.
Re the Jailbird lawyer, who would have thought that an axe-murderer would turn out to be such a boring old blether?
Thank God Alfred Hitchcock hadn't met you when he made Psycho or Anthony Perkins would have been following everyone around long-windedly EXPLAINING THINGS to them.
The old-lady murderer says, inexplicably: "Prisoners have accepted social responsibility, in that they have accepted the punishment."
No. They are incarcerated at the point of a gun and behind bars and locked cells and sirens because they don't accept that they should be in prison. That's why we have the security aspect.
Therefore, opines Jailhouse bore, building on a false premise, they should be accorded the vote. Why stop at the vote? Perhaps, having "accepted social responsibilty" [not guilt; not the need for punishment; but morphed into socially responsible citizens] maybe they should qualify for lottery funds and a US Green Card?
Vera Titty: I recall a prison governor called Peter Bennett once saying that in his opinion the only danger I posed was boring people to death on the subject of prison law. Some people cannot stand being corrected when they are in the wrong. Prison governors are administrators and not lawyers, and tend to get on the wrong side of the law quite often. You strike me as someone who cannot tell the difference between right and wrong. Axe killer is the precise term, because the offence was manslaughter and not murder, therefore axe-murderer is incorrect. Not that you worry about getting things right. Funny you should mention Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho and Anthony Perkins, because when I invite people to stay with me I tell them its a bit like the Bates Motel.
You have been watching too many prison dramas from the States. We are too civilised over here to have the point of the gun (I thought knife and sword have a point and the gun has a barrel, but there we go), and siren. I think it would be a good idea if lottery funds were used to improve the living conditions of prisoners.
I think prisoners accept the need for punishment. It is probably the quantity and quality which they might contest. And, of course, the hypocrisy from the so-called law-abiding.
Jailhouse I cannot agree with your
"Prisoners have accepted social responsibility, in that they have accepted the punishment. Therefore, they shoud be allowed the vote."
Prisoners do not accept punishment - refusal is not an option (except in juvenile courts).
Verity I have some sympathy with disenfranchising those who do not contribute but am worried it would be used as a way to disenfranchise the supporters of political opponents. Technicly those on unemployment benefit have also, usually, previously paid into the social security system. Can those on disability, where it is a genuine disability, be ethicly excluded? Rqually should we not also disenfranchise those who receive grants roughly euivalent to their incomes, such as farmers, or pay, after the accountants are through, proportionately less of their income in taxes than the poor, as Rupert Murdoch did?
An alternative might be to allow people to sell their voting rights for 5 years either to individuals or, for say £300 to eliminate them. Anybody who would take the money is not likely to use it with responsibility & since nobody who had foregone the money to keep it would waste it I suspect we would see more votes cast.
Jailbird - You live a life of fantasy. You're sick.
Do they have a lot of prison dramas in the US? Could you name some, so I can watch them? I haven't read of any.
Britain is not a civilised country because it doesn't have the death penalty for murderers. The states in the US that have the death penalty mainly have lethal injection, but Idaho gives attention seekers such as yourself the option of the firing squad.
Vera Titty: How about Prison Break? I reviewed it for the Times, and said it was a cruel and unusual punishment to watch it!
Jailhouse: You have a limited legalistic interpretation of ethics. Just because a bunch of European judges have ruled one way or the other does not provide the definitive answer to what is essentially a question of morality. Judges are compelled to interpret the law without influence by ethics or common sense, the old letter and spirit of the law conundrum. Arguments based on concepts not enshrined in law will tend to lose out to those that are and where competing concepts are both expressed in law it will be the specific wording of the clauses and the hierarchy of legislators that will carry the day and not morality. This is as it should be because judges should be automatons who are there to implement the will of the people as expressed by their laws. They are not the arbiters of what is right or wrong. Parliament as the representatives of the people have that power.
This means that you cannot dismiss out of hand an argument because the court rejected it. Legally it has been rejected. It has not been rejected because of a failure of logic or morality but because it is not captured in law. When someone puts forward an argument that a court has rejected your argument would have more persuasive power if you took it on using logic and reference to principles of ethics and not the European court. While I’m on the subject of being persuasive I’d also suggest you avoid personal attacks (“vera tity” or suggesting that people “grow up”) or weak arguments on asides (pointing out that the European court is in Strasburg and not Brussels. This is technically accurate but a weak attack for several reasons. Firstly because Brussels is a common shorthand for Europe and secondly because Brussels is the source of the legislation and therefore fundamental to the power and authority of the court). Both of these tactics dilute the thrust of your argument but also risk turning people against you for style alone. You seem not to care about style but you should. It is harder to win an argument if you make your opponent your enemy.
I hope this government resists this judgement of the European court and I’ll be interested to see how different MPs and parties will line up on the issue. This kind of issue represents the worst of European integration. There is no reason why the member states need to harmonise their policies in this area and to impose a “European” policy on a country that doesn’t want it is arrogant and anti-democratic. If resisting this judgement is unlawful then the law needs to change, if it is unconstitutional then the constitution needs to change.
rk: I have a legalistic approach to solving legal problems, this is sensible because knowing how to put a washer on a tap would not help in this situation.
This has got nothing to do whatsoever with ethics. The government tried to introduce a moral argument and the ECtHR kicked it into touch.
You go on as though I lost the case, I didn't. I won it. It should never have gone to Europe, but it did because of corrupt judges in England refusing to apply the law to a legal issue. It was a simple matter of deciding that s.3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 was incompatible with Article 3 of the First Protocol.
The government cannot resist this judgment of the ECtHR. We signed up to accepting its authority. There is no logical reason why prisoners should not have the vote, and this is why I won the argument on logical grounds.
I am aware that it does not have popular support. It reminds me of lemmings jumping over a cliff. They don't stop to ask why. It requires putting aside emotions, and sticking to the issue. Human rights are for people. Its a human right to vote. Prisoners are people. They are entitled to vote.
Morality and ethics are the basis of all laws.
If they are not then the law is immoral and unethical.
It perfectly summarises your position to note that you do not consider judgements of law to be influenced in any way by ethics or morality.
rk: In the begining, yes. But, Tony Blair argued that prisoners have lost the moral authority to vote. However, it has never been a qualification for the franchise. On the other hand, it has been argued that Tony Blair did not have the moral authority to go to war with Iraq.
I do not think that introducing morals and ethics into it at this stage of the game assists anything but clouds the issue. I think this position is irrefutable:Human rights are for people. Its a human right to vote. Prisoners are people. They are entitled to vote. Can you suggest otherwise?
It most certainly is refutable. If your logic was as simple and undeniable as you assert then children, lunatics and any foreigner currently passing through Heathrow must also be given the vote. Your logic would go even further than that and also argue that removing the liberty of prisoners was unacceptable and thereby rendering the whole prisoner voting question redundant. Any logic which produces such an absurd result is clearly in need of a little tweaking.
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