Sunday, November 09, 2008

Parliament Should Decide on Prisoners' Voting Rights - Not Judges

When you go to jail you forfeit the normal rights you enjoy in society - your freedom, and indeed your right to choose the government. Yet now some unelected European judges are apparently about to force the British government to give prisoners the right to vote. This is something the LibDems have favoured for some time and it seems they are about to get their way. I wonder who Ian Huntley and Fred Rose West will vote for.

This is nothing to do with human rights. It's about whether judges, rather than Parliament, should be able to decide who votes in UK elections. What on earth is the point of Parliament if its sovereignty can be usurped like this?

This has all arisen after the despicable John Hirst (who served 25 years for axing a woman to death) took the issue to the Court of Human Rights. Pity he never thought about the human right to live of the woman he killed, eh?

The Observer speculates that the government may try to limit the right to vote to those it believes have been successfully rehabilitated. I can see the logic of that, but it's surely impossible for a law to be framed in such a subjective way.


Andy said...

"Pity he never thought about the human right to live of the woman he killed, eh?"

Rather simplistic Iain. The kind of line one expects from an A-Level student..

Iain Dale said...

Oh, give me a break Andy. It's simplistic, because it is that simple. Pray, do complicate it for us and defend Hirst. Go on.

Paul Burgin said...

Er, Fred West hanged himself about thirteen years ago, I think you might be thinking of Rose West
But I agree totally with what you are saying. The whole point of prison is to do with loss of "full" rights as a citizen

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Fred West aint votin for nobody. He's dead - topped himself in a prison cell.

Wake up!

Wrinkled Weasel said...

But I agree. It is Karaaazy allowing scumbags in jail to vote. Crikey, I would prefer it if anybody on benefits was denied the vote. And certainly, anybody who thinks the X factor is the apogee of culture. And also, anybody who says "I always vote (insert party here).Always have and always will"

Old Holborn said...


We put people in prison to protect our Society from them.

And now they get a say in who runs our Society.

No great surprises there then.

Anonymous said...

You asked what on earth is the point of Parliament if its sovereignty can be usurped like this. What indeed, given our parliament is subservient to the EU? Since May 2007 the total new EU laws is 1,798. Examples of the laws recently introduced are below:

Nest feathering - better pay, pensions and expenses for Brussels bureaucrats. Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 420/2008 adjusting with effect from 1 July 2007 the remuneration and pensions of officials and other servants of the European Communities.

Now you know why!

AndyR said...

Parliament voted to allow some decisions to be overridden by the ECHR. We can't blame the judges or the EU... we did it.

We don't know if John Hirst has been rehabilitated or not, but I'm guessing that most prisoners aren't brutal axe murderers anyway.

I can turn it around and ask if you approve of removing voting rights from an old lady who didn't pay her TV license?

Victor, NW Kent said...

There is little that we can do about this since we have surrendered to the EU final jurisdiction over our legislation in almost all sectors.

So, grin and bear it. If you don't like it then do not vote for any Europhile candidates for Parliament.

Perhaps we should remember that judges, of any type, are there to see that justice is dispensed. they should not be making laws, wherever they come from.

If we were French or German we could ignore the Grand Chamber of the EU Court altogther whenever we wished.

Henry Pepper said...

This isn't the EU, is it, even if the Observer thinks it is. Isn't it the ECHR in Strasbourg? They also think, front page today, that Lagos is the capital of Nigeria.

Anonymous said...

victor, nw kent: What has this got to do with the EU? It is a consequence of our membership of the Council of Europe and the enactment of the Human Rights Act - which Parliament did not have to pass.

On Iain's point about voting rights, I agree. If society imposes the penalty of losing one's liberty for committing a serious offence then one should lose the right to vote as well.

strapworld said...

andy said WE DIT IT!

No we did not. The only thing the British People voted for in the only referendum ever allowed over Europe, was for the United Kingdom to join a Common Market.

Everything that has transpired since we entered the Common Market was denied totally by all the traitors who have made this country the slave of the EU.

Will Cameron and his Tories change anything? OF course not!

DiscoveredJoys said...

Look on the bright side. If prisoners are allowed to vote then any Prime Minister who went back on a manifesto promise (can't think of a good example right now *cough) might end up with a visit from Well Hard John and Mad Axeman Pete on their release from jail...

Might concentrate the mind a bit.

Old BE said...

Parliament signed us up to a scheme where ECHR judges could decide. Parliament is sovereign, but for some reason it keeps signing treaties which take decision-making out of its hands. We see it time and again. Are you seriously saying you don't understand this Iain?

Barnacle Bill said...

Parliament should decide on prisoner's voting rights Iain, let us have a Bill laid before Parliament, then our elected representatives can decide upon it.
The delay by the present government is at the heart of the opinion from the EU judges.
Using John Hirst as part of your argument is feeble, a smokescreen to avoiding admitting your own party has no policy to put forward on this issue.
Would you deny the right to vote to an OAP who has been jailed for not paying their council tax as a protest?
Or those of our Armed Forces suffering from PTS, let down upon their return to civilian life, who find themselves in jail?
The real villains in this are our MPs who have given away our sovereignty.
I voted years ago to join a common market not a fecking federal state!

Anonymous said...

Iain, your arguments are more akin to a Daily Mail editorial and are based upon emotive and extremist examples. This intellectual dishonesty sadly exposes the real right wing conservative in you. Parliament is supreme and can at anytime (if it chooses) enact laws that enable it to withdraw from the ECHR and the EU. Parliament, as Lord Denning once said is always supreme. Also, maybe if we tried to franchise our prisoners they may want to get more involved in society when they are released!

Paul Lockett said...

You say: "This is nothing to do with human rights. It's about whether judges, rather than Parliament, should be able to decide who votes in UK elections. What on earth is the point of Parliament if its sovereignty can be usurped like this?"

As the point of voting is to decide who should be in parliament, parliament is possibly the worst body imaginable to determine who should be allowed to vote. It creates an opportunity for the incumbent government to change the rules to keep their opponents away from the ballot box (or do away with the ballot box altogether).

I'm not sure if judges are the right people to be taking the decision, but it's preferable to parliament doing the job.

Alan Dean said...

Are all UK prisoners prevented from voting? If that is so, then how do you defend someone not being able to vote simply by being jailed for one day (Election Day) or any other short duration?

Apparently Canada permits prisoners to vote. So does South Africa, where the Supreme Court declared "The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and personhood. Quite literally it says that everybody counts.".

I prefer that to scare stories about Rose West and the encroachment of the European Court.

I don't agree with the sentiment that "When you go to jail you forfeit the normal rights you enjoy in society". In a western liberal democracy, I don't think that is a reasonable position to take. Prison means loss of liberty, not loss of your human rights.

Anonymous said...

Re Anonymous @ 11.00pm

You are free to disagree with Iain's argument, but to accuse him of intellectual dishonesty is simply posturing. What would be the point of a law which did not hold true in emotive and extreme cases? In any event, murder is unfortunately not an extreme case since there are a good number of murderers, rapists, sex offenders, and so on, incarcerated in our prisons. There are far more of these sorts of dangerous and sometimes mentally disordered offenders than there are OAPs who have not paid their council tax.

Anonymous said...


There are axe murderers who read your blog, very bad axe murderers and then..............the rest of us!

If you have the right to own property, why shouldn't you have the right to vote? You do in other modern democracies.

Let's ban West Ham supporters from voting. They are a dangerous, subversive lot.........

Andrew said...


I think it is all too easy to claim that this a black-and-white, open-and-shut. Surely we can't accept the simple assertion that prisoners "forfeit the normal rights you enjoy in society" - it's just not true. More accurately, you forfeit some of those rights. That means we have to draw a line of acceptability somewhere.

I happen to think that prisoners should be given the vote. That's not to say that I condone vile and despicable acts that some prisoners have committed.

No, it's because who is in government affects them just as much as it affects you and me. It's because I believe some human rights are inalienable - that as residents of this country they should always be part of the democratic process, because that is so fundamental a principle of our country. Most of all it's because denying them the vote serves no purpose other than wanton retribution - it doesn't protect us as a society, it doesn't help rehabilitate them and it doesn't deter people from committing crimes. I think denying someone a legitimate say in our democracy on the basis of pure retribution is a morally dubious stance to take.

I'd like to hear what you make of these reasons, Iain.


Iain Dale said...

An entirely reasonable view to hold, but I disagree with it. When you go to prison you forfeit normal rights. You are not a normal member of society and have no right to enjoy the same privileges as others.

Prison is about punishment as well as rehabilitation. If it wasn't, it wouldn't exist. You go to prison and lose your liberty. Part of that liberty is exercising your right to vote.

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when postal voting is allowed for anyone who wants it without providing a valid reason - guess what, prisoners get to ask for it. It's not the fault of European judges, it's poorly thought out legislation - a Labour speciality. And why should those on remand and not convicted of any offence be deprived of their right to vote? There's an awful lot of grey on this topic, not a simple black and white issue

John Pickworth said...

Have I missed a meeting?

When did voting become a 'human right' as such?

Personally I would hope the Government just ignores this ruling - but I know they won't.

Okay then, give them the vote. But lets start charging them Council Tax too... and for that matter rent and food. Its only fair after all.

Anonymous said...

This is OT, though related to those slightly worried about who wields power in Britain these days. Paranoia?

It's from a Times article regarding Eco-towns:

“She [Flint] cannot cut out those processes that come from the [European Union]. What she can cut out, and has said she wants to cut out, are all the preliminary policy frameworks, at local and regional level, which can take seven to 10 years.”

The EU cannot be cut out. The British people? Don't be sillly.

David Boothroyd said...

To reiterate the comments of every sane person, this judgment is from the European Court of Human Rights, and has nothing to do with the European Union. In other words, we could leave the European Union and would still have to abide by it. We could repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and we would still have to abide by it.

However, all the judgment says is that a blanket ban on all prisoners voting is incompatible with human rights. The simplest way of solving it would be to presume that prisoners would be disfranchized while in prison, but include as part of Judges' sentencing power the ability to lift the disfranchisement. It would not then matter if no Judge ever lifted it for any prisoner because it would not be a blanket ban.

Iain Dale said...

That is quite a sensible suggestion on the face of it, as a way of getting round things!

Anonymous said...

Utter rubbish Iain. Prisoners do not forfeit their rights only their freedom. Which is why most civilised countries in Europe give them the right to vote too! For those nice right-wingers, wouldn't you want to give an imprisoned "metric martyr" the right to vote on the leglislators that imprisoned them? How can we expect prisoners to engage with society upon release if we keep up this reactionary nonsense of locking the door and forgetting about them and hoping somehow they'll turn out all right. Even Tories are begining to rethink this one Iain. Don't pander to the Mail so much!

scott redding said...

What's unclear from your post is that this has been rumbling on for 4 years. It's not something that, suddenly, European judges are doing.

Only 9 European countries have a blanket ban on prisoners voting. Ireland, the Netherlands, and Spain haven't fallen apart by allowing all prisoners to vote.

Despite having the largest per capita prison population in the EU, there is no pressure on MPs to address our prison system if prisoners are not enfranchised.

Iain Dale said...

No one is saying the country will fall apart. It's the principle that is the issue.

Springheel said...

What interests me is where these individuals would vote. Given that the prison would be ( for all except remand prisoners) their place of residence, they would presumably cast their vote in the constituency that housed their prison. I imagine that some interesting psephological impacts could result: particularly regarding large prisons. Has this been noticed in those nations that do allow prisoners to vote?

Wrinkled Weasel said...

I am shocked that some on here think that prisoners have rights, over and above humane treatment, i.e. food and water and access to books.

Apart from that, serious and serial offenders have no rights. They forfeited them when they became anti-social. They forfeited them when they took away the lives of others, traumatised them and stuck two fingers up at the rest of us.

Now stop talking bollocks.

Anonymous said...

Even at Alcatraz they stated on admission that you had the right to food, clothing and medical attention ("anything else is a privilege") so clearly not even they thought that prisoners forfeited all their 'normal' rights. Just some of them. I assume you would also agree that prisoners should be fed and clothed, not subjected to cruel and unusual punishments etc.

So we're haggling over price really. Personally I don't have a problem with prisoners voting. Some people do. Fine, let's have that debate. But:

"Pity he never thought about the human right to live of the woman he killed, eh?"

Iain, that's contemptible. It is our respect for his rights, despite his lack of respect for anyone else's and vile crime, that makes us civilised (and him barbaric). Unlike Andy, I wouldn't even expect that from an A-Level student. I might expect it from a posturing GCSE student trying to be 'controversial'. I certainly wouldn't expect it from the normally erudite, balanced and considered man that writes this blog.

Your invitation to 'defend' Hirst is a misdirection. One need not 'defend' murder in order to believe that respect for people's rights should be enshrined in law, even when they have committed a crime. Sinking into barbarity in order to fight barbarity seems to me - at best - an odd and illogical way to go about things. Lock him up to protect others. Remove his liberty to punish his transgression. But let's remember, whilst we're at it, why we bother to have laws at all.

scott redding said...

"It's the principle that is the issue."

You're right. The principle is that, if the UK is signed up to international treaties, we can't pick and choose which parts of them we follow ... whether it's the Geneva Conventions, or the UN human rights covenant, or the European Convention On Human Rights.

Chris Paul said...

God Iain this is poor.

Attack on Hirst is par for the course but in this matter and much else he is IMO absolutely right. And by bringing up Rose West and Ian Huntley you really are playing to some kind of bulgey-eyed reactionary Daily Mail gallery.

This is where the Cuddly Nu Tories find themselves. David Cameron has an uphill struggle with all these knees jerking in the ranks. No wonder iain that you are far and away the favourite blogger of the Labour establishment. they like the cut of your jib. You'll be attacking the EU next, and if it's not bendy cucumbers it'll be 14th successive unsigned off accounts bollocks. Or Brown is so competent in a crisis that he's getting some job satisfaction after a grim first year in charge.

It doesn't really bother me if 300 say - figure plucked from air - "monsters" get vote if 80,000 others who are not "monsters" get vote and are therefore included to an extent in society even though in many other ways they are excluded.

Anonymous said...

i will defend JHL. He has stood up to take the flack for defending human rights, for insisting that even the lowest wretch should be protected from the whims of popular and political prejudice. That a lifer is making this stand must stick in your throat and reveals your petty digs to be the empty spite of a man with an audience, but not the wits to inform them. You show a feeble grasp of constitutional law and no grasp of human rights law. Sad. Your post is an insult to the efforts of tim berners-lee.

Unknown said...

I'm quite critical of the Hirst judgment on legal grounds - I think the judges intervened far too readily with the UK's approach, and on the basis of bad reasoning. For anyone who's interested, Charon QC did podcasts last summer with John Hirst himself and then with me doing some legal punditry about it and explaining my view.

The judgment doesn't mean all prisoners will have to be able to vote, though - just that we have to remove the current blanket ban covering all prisoners regardless. Not that I think David Boothroyd's clever wheeze will work - if no prisoner ever gets to vote, we'll just end up back in the ECtHR in a few years time. But a similar scheme that does allow some prisoners to vote - the least serious offenders, serving short sentences - may well survive in the courts and in Strasbourg.

The issue for those who object to the whole ECHR system, though, is what to do about it. Repealing the Human Rights Act wouldn't be enough. A future government certainly can get Britain out of the ECHR if it wants to, and leave the EU (though they're not formally linked, signing up to the ECHR is more or less a requirement of EU membership), or less dramatically, it could try to open negotiations on amending the ECHR.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

To see a convicted axe murderer claiming human rights is sickening. He should have hanged. Since I do not agree with capital punishment, the second option is to keep Hirst permanently locked up, with no release, and with few creature comforts. If prison lost a few luxuries, perhaps career crims woudn't consider it such a soft option.

His only human right, as I see it, is courtesy, freedom from pain and hunger and an opportunity to improve himself through study. Any psychological discomfort he may have, deriving from the lack of TV and cigarettes is something he should learn to cope with.

In the meantime there should be zero tolerance of drugs. There isn't, and you can get any drugs you want in jail. Until Governers start getting sacked and warders are disciplined and visitors are given the rubber glove treatment it won't happen.

Iain Dale said...

Wrinkled Weasel, I should point out that Mr Hirst was convicted of manslaughter, not murder.

Anonymous said...

wrinkled weasel - the point is obvious and simple, please try to keep up. Human rights accrue solely by virtue of being human. Not law abiding or popular, just human. That is why hirst insists on human rights. Why you cant grasp this is a sorrow to be shared between yourself and your therapist. To miss the point by blathering about drugs and tv only degrades you further. If you want an adult conversation around penology, drop the daily mail ranting.

Anonymous said...

@Alan Dean,
If this BBC article on this is still accurate, then no prisoners can vote at the moment: The hope was that following the consultation, legislation could be introduced to give the vote to prisoners serving shorter sentences of between three and six months, he said.

However, convicted MPs and MEPs are allowed to stand for, or remain in, parliament if their sentence is under 12 months. They also get to draw their salary in that period, despite being unable to do their job. This came up when the South East England MEP Ashley Mote was jailed for 9 months for fraud.

An unsatisfactory situation, I think - the rules for MPs and MEPs being paid by the public should be at least as strict as the rules about the voting rights of the rest of us.

Unknown said...

Extending that 12-month rule to all prisoners might work as a solution.

Anonymous said...

head of legal - what of lifers who have passed their tariff and who are no longer in prison as punishment for their crime, but are held on grounds of future risk? These will include heinous individuals but once their punishment tariff is completed, is their position not analogous to those on remand?

Jude Cosgrove said...

An entirely reasonable view to hold, but I disagree with it. When you go to prison you forfeit normal rights. You are not a normal member of society and have no right to enjoy the same privileges as others."


Voting isn't a privilege, it's a basic human right in any real democracy. We've come far beyond the days when only the 'privileged' were allowed the vote. Prisoners do not cease to be human when they are imprisoned, especially seeing as their 'punishment', prison term or otherwise has been decided by the very judges that you deem unqualified to decide what prisoners' rights should be.

Anonymous said...

prisonguru said...
i will defend JHL. He has stood up to take the flack for defending human rights, for insisting that even the lowest wretch should be protected from the whims of popular and political prejudice.

Unless, of course, their names are Kate and Gerry McCann. Or isn't being treated as innocent until proven guilty a basic human right? He's not terribly consistent your 'JHL', is he?

Anonymous said...

Most prisoners are not going to be incarcerated indefinitely. Sooner or later they will be released. If they are completely excluded from society then where is the incentive to avoid violating its laws? They may well come to believe that if society owes them nothing and they owe society nothing. It's possible that the right to vote may provide a sense of 'connection' with society. If granting these people the right to vote contributes to their rehabilitation and reduces the risk of recidivism then I have no problem with that.