Thursday, 3 December 2009

Why John Hirst, not UKIP is more likely to get the UK out of Europe

Iain Dale has been very consistent in tracking the case of John Hirst, a former prisoner who has been arguing that convicted criminals should not lose their right to vote in elections. Iain and I take different views on this matter (I believe that all UK citizens should have the right to vote unless they are convicted of an electoral offence and he doesn't). but I commend him on his assiduousness in this matter.

Iain reports that the Government has failed to take account of the European Court of Human Rights' judgement that the current UK position (that prisoners should not be able to vote) is incompatible with Human Rights law. The Government has responded that they are still consulting. The ECHR says that they have had long enough and so they must change the law immediately (ie in time for the next General Election) or be kicked out of Europe.

The Government has the perfect opportunity to change the law (there is a Bill going through Parliament at the moment that they are planning to amend with a commitment to a reform of the voting system), so that is no excuse.

It seems to me that (unintentionally) Mr Hirst has a better chance of forcing the UK out of the EU than UKIP!


jailhouselawyer said...

Hi Alex: LOL at the headline. Prior to the European Election UKIP's press officer in Brussels contacted me. When I asked why, he said he thought it best to speak to the person who knows what he is talking about in the Prisoners Votes Case. It is a shame that none of the main parties thought to do this.

Charles Falconer was quick to rush into the World At One Studio and tell the world what the judgment did not say, when I know for a fact that he had not read it to find out what it did say! This was indefensible for the then Lord Chancellor. The government cannot bring itself to admit this was a gaffe, so Jack Straw has since been trying to defend the indefensible.

I recall the government lawyers saying "we didn't expect to lose" following the Chamber judgment, so they lodged an appeal to the Grand Chamber and couldn't believe they lost that as well. It would indicate that they did not have a plan B. This inordinate delay shows they are still in shock and still have not got a clue what to do next. I have no sympathy for the devil.

Part of the government's excuse for the delay was the claim that they would be tying it all up with the constitutional reforms. Hansard shows that all 3 parties actually raised the issue of prisoners votes during debates on the Bill you refer to. As you say, it was the perfect opportunity to get rid of this thorny problem.

It was certainly not my intention to get the UK suspended or evicted from the EU. However, ultimately I knew it was a possibility if the UK did not play ball. They chose to kick it into the long grass. After a discussion with a friend who is a judge and looking at what could happen, I decided to continue pushing forward.

In the words of Rambo "Don't push me". Before I studied law I studied politics. Prison politics is my jungle, just like prison law is. I spent years planning this and laying the traps.

I have outlawed Jack Straw. The one thing prisoners have on their side is time. The government's time has run out.

Morus said...

Without wanting to detract from John Hirst's achievement, I don't think this can result in the UK being suspended or expelled from the EU.

You wrote "The ECHR says that they have had long enough and so they must change the law immediately (ie in time for the next General Election) or be kicked out of Europe."

The problem is "kicked out of Europe" as it blurs an important distinction.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) exists under the auspices of the Council of Europe, which has a Committee of Ministers and a Parliamentary Assembly. It is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights. All of these institutions fall under the Council of Europe, and all are separate from the EU.

The EU has the Council of the European Union, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. It's courts are the European Court of Justice and the European Court of First Instance (and the European Court of Auditors).

The Council of Europe and the European Union are separate entities, so breaching the rules of the Council of Europe (inc the ECHR) *might* get the UK suspended or expelled from the Council of Europe, but would have no bearing on the UK's membership of the EU.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) which *is* part of the EU does use European Court of Human Rights (Council of Europe) judgements to form its own decisions, but that is not a legal link. It would take losing an ECJ case to bring the UK's membership of the EU into question.

By Protocol 14 of the ECHR, the EU can become a signatory of the ECHR post-Lisbon but hasn't yet. If it was, then it could perhaps effect a suspension from the EU, but the EU-as-a-treaty-acceding-body has not yet acceded to the ECHR.

Still a great court victory if you support prisoners' right to vote, but it won't affect the UK's membership of the EU any time soon.

Best regards


Morus said...

This is a great graphic that explains who is a member of what:

Anonymous said...

Morus, great venn diagram, now all I need is a book of flags!

Steve Tierney said...

I'm sorry, but the idea that a convicted criminal in prison should be able to vote in a general election is absolute madness. Nor will the public ever stand for such a bizarre idea.

As for infringing their "human rights", I worry that people have forgotten just what Human Rights actually are.

These days, it seems, it infringes your human rights if you don't get five portions of fruit and veg a day, can't get parked within 100m of your home and don't get quite the right shade of blonde from the hair dye you bought at Tesco.

The sooner we get out of the crazy Human Rights Act the better, so that we can establish what *real* human rights are and avoid this sort of nonsense.

jailhouselawyer said...

Morus: In relation to Protocol 14.

From: Elkan Abrahamson []
Sent: Sat 11/28/2009 5:55 PM
To: CM; PALMER Simon
Cc:;; flo krause
Subject: Hirst v U.K. (no.2) - 74025/01

We acted for Mr. Hirst in this case and have written to the Committee of
Ministers before. We understand the Committee is due to meet in
December. We invite the Committee to begin rule 11 infringement
proceedings under the following circumstances:
1. In April 2006 the U.K. Government presented an Action Plan to comply
with the Judgment which was itself adopted in August 2005.
2. This was later varied and a revised plan/timetable published by which
draft legislation was to be produced by May 2008.
3. The first stage consultation paper was published on 1st December
2006. The consultation finished 3 months later in March 2007.
4. The second stage consultation paper was issued on 8th April 2009 -
two years later.
5. The second stage consultation finished on 29th September 2009.
6. The U.K. Parliament's Joint Committee of Human Rights in its 2008
Annual Report criticises the delay and points out that any further delay
may result in the next election taking place in a way that is
incompatible with the Convention.
7. The next U.K. General Election must take place by June 2010 at the
8. The Uk has announced its proposals for legislation for the next
parliamentary term, which will take it to the next election. There are
no proposals for dealing with the Hirst Judgment.
9. The U.K. Government has been reported as stating that it has no
intention of introducing legislation to comply with the Hirst Judgment
before the next General Election.
It therefore follows that prisoners will remain unlawfully
disenfranchised at the next General Election unless the Court and /or
the Committee of Ministers is able to persuade or compel the U.K.
Government to change its position.
Under these circumstances we ask the Committee to serve the U.K.
Government with formal notice of its intention to refer to the Court the
Question of whether the Government has failed to fulfil its obligation.
We ask the Committee to consider waiving the normal 6 month notice
period and substituting a 2 month notice period given that there is so
little time before the next General Election must take place.

Elkan Abrahamson

Jackson & Canter LLP
32 Princes Road
L8 1TH

t: 0151 282 1732
f: 0151 282 1735

Dear Mr Abahamson,

Thank you for your mail. Rule 11 proceedings are not yet available as they require the entry into force of Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which, as I am sure you know, has not yet taken place as one member state has not yet ratified it. Your remarks on the Hirst case have been communicated to the Department for the Execution of Judgments of the Secretariat of the Council of Europe.

Best wishes,

Simon Palmer
Principal Administrator (Execution)
Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers

The Member State yet to ratify Protocol 14 is Russia.

In effect, Russia is denying UK prisoners the vote!

Robert Eve said...

Obviously it would be foolish to allow prisoners the vote - but I'll take anything going to get us out of the EU.

Anonymous said...

Oh, for the love of god!!! Is it really so hard to distinguish between the Council of Europe, which birthed the ECHR, and the European Union? Considering Lib Dems are so pro-EU you would think they would know what the bloody difference was!?! Seriously dude, correct your facts! It only takes a quick wikipedia check!