The British government has lost its final appeal over the issue of voting rights for prisoners. David Cameron’s government is now in an extremely difficult position as it attempts to balance the moaning and whingeing of its own backbenchers against the requirements of the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.
Before we go any further, let’s make one thing absolutely clear: The European Court of Human Rights is nothing whatsoever to do with the European Union, the EU as it is called.
The court is in fact part of the Council of Europe which is an entirely different organization. TheOpinionSite.org has made this distinction before yet there are still many hundreds of comments across the Internet condemning the EU and Europe for decisions that have nothing whatsoever to do with the political body – “Europe” – so often criticized by British MPs and large proportions of the British media and the public.
Both the BBC and the Sky News websites are full of comments by people suggesting that Britain should withdraw from the European court and from its jurisdiction. These are the same people who suggest withdrawing from the EU and who clearly have no comprehension of the difference between the two.
To put it in perspective, people in Britain would not enjoy the paid holidays that they get, the ability to live and work in Europe or the protection of vulnerable workers were it not for the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice.
They should remember that before posting comments aimed at the EU, which has nothing to do with either court.
These same ignorant people and media commentators also recently criticised the European Court of Human Rights for ruling that sex offenders should have the right of appeal against registration on the Sex Offender Register when actually it was the British Supreme Court and British judges who handed down the ruling.
It had nothing at all to do with Europe.
Having got that out of the way, we will now address the issue of voting rights for prisoners that caused the last government so much trouble and which promises to do the same for this one.
However, TheOpinionSite.org would also make the point that by trying to appeal the previous decision of the court in order to satisfy the populists, the British Government has now made matters far worse for themselves than they ever were before.
The court not only dismissed the government’s final appeal but also imposed a time limit to force it to act on the ruling and to introduce measures in a timely manner.
It is unusual for the court to take such measures against a sovereign government but then again, thanks to the previous Labour government this matter has now been dragging on for nearly 6 years. Not the sort of behaviour one would expect from what is supposed to be a civilized country led by what is presumably a civilized government.
By its stupidity and in its eagerness to satisfy the demands of the tabloid press in general and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in particular, the government has also put an end to any chance of persuading the European Court to allow a degree of moderation in the allocation of voting rights.
To put it another way, if David Cameron does not grant voting rights to all prisoners without exception, then his government will be back before the court in very short order.
Whereas previously, had the government complied with the ruling in the first place, there may have been room for manoeuvre by the court, now there is none thanks to the defiance of successive British administrations in granting prisoners in this country that which is a fundamental right in most others.
The government is also likely to have to pay out millions of pounds in compensation to prisoners if it fails to implement the ruling or if it fails to do so within the time limit set down by the court.
This whole matter has turned the light on a side of the British character that nobody really wants to talk about. That is, that with regard to prisoners and wrongdoers, the majority of the British public or at least, their elected representatives, live in a closed world dominated by an island mentality that has no place whatsoever in the modern world.
Britain may be an island but as an island it is likely to be ridiculed and ignored by the rest of the world if it persists with its 19th century ideals and attitudes that are so out of place in today’s society. Britain no longer has an empire, is no longer a major power and should realise that it is no longer taken seriously by other countries in the way that it once was. Clinging to the Americans won’t help either.
The outdated attitude and approach maintained towards prisoners by Britain smacks of vengeance rather than justice.
TheOpinionSite.org is almost alone on the Internet when it comes to having a sensible and rational debate about anything to do with crime or law and order. Everywhere one looks one sees politicians and those with vested interests seeking to ramp up the public’s perceived hatred and loathing of those who for whatever reason have fallen foul of the law.
In other European countries – even the smallest such as Lithuania with its tiny population of 3.5 million – the emphasis is on rehabilitation and the re-employment of former prisoners. In Britain, it is about seeking to keep them locked up for a period of time that in other European countries is regarded as both inhuman and counterproductive to the needs of society.
The short-term and financial needs of politicians and media tycoons should not dominate thinking when it comes to reintroducing those who have fallen by the wayside back into a useful role in the community.
In the end, the government will have to give all prisoners the right to vote whether it wants to or not. This constant pandering to the tabloid press by successive British governments has done more to damage the UK in recent years than almost any other action undertaken by any administration.
Tabloid newspapers together with the popular media love to exploit the weaknesses of that section of the population that has a limited understanding of European issues, using that lack of understanding to promote their own interests which basically come down to making money or wielding power.
In response, the government meekly falls into line whilst at the same time trying to pick up a few cheap votes along the way.
Britain will not withdraw from Europe nor will it withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European courts, no matter how many people scream for such action to be taken. To do so would be political and international social suicide and no government is ever going to take the country down that particular route.
When the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and various other senior ministers all state that they will do the “absolute minimum” to comply with the court ruling, a reflection of their own cowardice and weakness is cast upon the entire population of the country.
A genuinely strong democracy should not be afraid of outside judicial influence and if ministers are afraid to do what is right for fear of criticism by cheap, tacky tabloid newspapers than frankly there is little hope left for this country or for those living in it.
It should also be remembered that the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights which is ruled upon by the European Court of Human Rights were both written by British lawyers and judges, not those from Europe.
It now seems that what the British decreed was right and proper for everyone else is no longer right for the British themselves. Greater hypocrisy is hard to find.
On this occasion, David Cameron has made a total fool of himself and displayed his island mentality ignorance to the entire world. Only the former American president George W. Bush has ever managed to make himself look an even bigger fool by confirming his inability to recognise the need for change.
Cameron needs to ensure that he does not make the mistake of doing the same thing or even worse, confirming to the world that like Tony Blair, he is really an isolationist bent on political survival at the cost of everything else.