Bound By European Court Of Human Rights

Giving prisoners the right to vote has created a huge controversy within the UK, it is arguable that prisoners when in prison that do not have to right to vote are being dehumanised and separated from society. It is a huge moral question as to whether prisoners should have the right to vote and this has sparked a huge democratic debate as to whether we as the UK should follow decision from the European Court of Human Rights in Hirst v UK 2005 [1] . The ban stopped 63,000 prisoners voting in the 2010 election.

Hirst v UK 2005 [2] was a case, where a former inmate John Hirst sued the UK stating that by not giving prisoners the right to vote was breaching his human rights, the judgement went up to the ECtHR in Strasburg and they held it was that was in breach of human rights, article 3 of the first protocol which says that everyone has the right to free elections.

‘...The removal of the right to vote in the case of some convicted prisoners can be a proportionate and proper response following conviction and imprisonment... [3] ’ This was said by the Justice Ministry spokeswoman along with the ‘the issue of voting rights is one that the government has took very seriously and it remained under careful consideration [4] ’. Many could argue, this is not completely true as this has took more than 5 years to implement and has still not yet been certified legislation, are the government just delaying this? As David Cameron has made his feelings towards this very clear and very public on a number of occasions, it is quite possible that this is the conclusion anyone could easily come to.

John Hirst believes that every prisoner should have the right to vote as this is part of our human rights regardless of their crime, circumstances or sentence. Everybody has human rights, but it is argued whether you still have these rights when you enter prison. He stated that ‘prisoners are still part of society, just not part of society at large’ [5] , if this is true, surely they should have the same human rights and entitlement as every other citizen in today’s society. He argued that his sentence was his punishment and not the removal of his civil liberties and human rights.

David Cameron however is completely against this view and has argued that ‘the thought of giving prisoners the right to vote would make him physically sick’ is this just the general opinion of a UK citizen or would this change if he had a family member or a friend in prison? If this is the case, it appears that Cameron’s commitment to human rights may be slipping if he is so biased to who has them and who doesn’t. Juliet Lyon from the prison reform trust states ‘government, like the rest of us, cannot simply pick and choose the laws they like’.

Personally, it would appear that prisoners, like anyone else, should have the right to vote, whatever crime that has been committed does not matter, as they have already been found guilty and are paying the price. Bigger issues are more important than denying them the right to vote, by serving a prison sentence is punishment enough and the UK is unable to keep awarding compensation because of the denial it is in over avoidance of this issue.

Parliament has taken more than 5 years to implement this law, and it has still not been completed. It is arguable that they are just in avoidance and ignorance or they are thinking very carefully as to how they would like it to be planned out.

A number of proposals and action plans were drawn up to implement the ruling in March 2007, this was later postponed and no further action has been taken. More proposals were drawn up in April 2010 to implement the law into giving the voting rights to those serving four years or less, but again this is yet to be successful. Negotiations will soon start between Europe and the UK to try and make the law work, without it, it could pose more problems for the UK, than it may be able to handle.

On 10th February 2011, a vote was held in parliament as to whether they believed that prisoners should be given the right to vote. Out of 234, a majority of 212 voted that prisoners should not have the right to vote opposed to 22 that thought they were entitled to the right.

‘Giving prisoners the vote is a question of moral conscience not political conscience. If prisoners are excluded from voting, they we don’t have a democratic society.... The government must accept that prisoners remain citizens of this country with legitimate human rights including the right to vote’ – This was said by Bob Cummings, the chief executive of the ex offenders organisation. This debate and question of democracy poses the question as to who will the feel the consequences of parliament’s decision, and that is simply us, the taxpayers of the UK. Whilst the decision is still being ‘considered’ more compensation will awarded to prisoners whilst we are still in breach of their human rights and this will be funded by non other but the taxpayer.

We, the UK are not legally bound by the European Court of Human Rights; we do have to take their judgements into account but however we do not legally have to implement their legislation into our legal system under S 2 (1) (a). The ECtHR’s did give the UK a maximum of 6 months to implement the legislation giving prisoners the right to vote. Our current position with the ECtHR is that we have still not implemented their judgement on breach of human rights for prisoners.

S and Marper v UK 2008 was a case about a minor and an adult who were arrested and later acquitted, they requested their DNA to be removed from the system on several occasions but this was unsuccessful, they argued that having their DNA on the system was a breach of their human right under articles 8 and 14. This case went to the ECtHR and it was held that it breached article 8, that having DNA of people on their system was to personal and in breach of right to privacy and family life, our judges however felt there was no breach of article 8, as this case started in the high court, it was ruled that no there was no breach and both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court upheld this decision.

A and Others v UK 2009 was A v Secretary, when brought to the House of Lords, they declared a declaration of incompatibility on the provisions of the act .The provisions of the act were indefinite detention of suspected international terrorist without trial, The House of Lords held that violated article 5 and 14, it then it went to the ECtHR which is when it became A and Others v UK. The ECtHR agreed with the House of Lords decision that it violated articles 5 and 14, and this was upheld as they felt the provisions were disproportionate. When the decision went to the ECtHR it was ruled illegal so the government then scrapped it and it was replaced with control orders.

These are two of the leading cases, that shows the UK is taking into account decisions from the ECtHR even though, they are not bound and they did not agree with their decision given. This shows that effectively the UK are bound, but not legally, the UK use these decisions of their own free will, with how unpopular they were.

It is argued that Human Rights are being used way out of context and being read too much into for what they are not, are they being abused as a way for people to get compensation out of the system?

If the UK is to reject the decision to give prisoners voting rights, this may destroy our relationship with the EU, destroying this may do more damage than good for the UK as alot of our laws are now incorporated from European Law, it is argued as to whether the UK would consider withdrawing from the European Union. If this were to happen, the UK may not be able to cope.

Although the UK is currently under alot of pressure from the ECtHR, it has an international obligation to take into account and enforce the law, however why should we enforce something we don’t believe in? The vote from parliament shows that a huge majority do not want prisoners to have the right to vote. By not making it law and giving the right to vote, shows that we, the UK are still independent and still have some control over our parliamentary sovereignty.

Overall, giving prisoners the right to vote is a question of moral’s or ignorance, however decided, if the decision is followed, the UK will be affected either way. It is arguable either as to whatever happens will affect the UK for the better. It would appear that Human Rights are implemented for a reason and need to be more structured and precise to make sure they are not taken out of context. Prisoners are serving their time for the crimes committed and are already living with removal of liberties and freedom; therefore their punishment should not be denial of the right to vote. We are effectively bound and following previous decisions should allow us to be more careful when following decisions in the future.