By Jonathan Isaby
During Justice Questions yesterday, the issue of votes for prisoners was raised on the back of the recent judgment from the European Court of Human Rights.
"The Hirst judgment says that article 3 of protocol 1 of the European convention on human rights obliges this House to give some prisoners the vote; as we have heard, it also gives rise to financial compensation to some prisoners who have been denied that right. Although I sympathise with my right hon. and learned Friend, does he accept that there is an intellectual case for, in time, bringing powers back to Westminster in this area by repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 and withdrawing from the European convention of human rights?"
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke was not sympathetic to this course of action:
"There has been another British case today, which has clarified the situation slightly and has underlined the fact that the Government have discretion on how to comply with their obligations. In due course, obviously, we shall establish a commission on how best to give effect to our human rights obligations in this country, but that will not happen until at least next year. The coalition Government do not intend to withdraw from the European convention on human rights, which was imposed by the victorious British on the rest of Europe after the war in order to establish British values across the countries that were recovering from fascism and was drafted largely by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who put what he thought were the best principles of British justice into it."
"In considering the Government’s policy on this thorny issue, will the Secretary of State, if he has to abide by the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, restrict the right to vote to those prisoners at the lowest level of seriousness — for example, those dealt with by the magistrates courts for summary offences only?"
Ken Clarke replied:
"This applies only to prisoners — obviously, people who have not been in prison do not lose their vote at all. We have to comply with the judgment of the Court. The problem is that this extremely annoying issue will become even more annoying to the public and everyone else if we simply do nothing and wait until some huge financial judgment is made against the taxpayer, which will turn the present public anger into fury. That is why we are going to bring forward considered proposals. At the moment, someone not sent to prison does not lose their vote — irrespective of what other punishment they receive in their summary trial."