The BBC are reporting that David Cameron has reluctantly accepted that the UK can no longer break the Law by continuing to deny prisoners the vote. The UK was in breach of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights made some five years ago. An announcement is expected later this week.
The news has created despair amongst right wing conservatives and has excited the so called ‘think tanks’ such as Civitas. The move has pleased the Prison Reform Trust and no doubt, prisoners themselves. TheOpinionSite.org is still waiting to see the reaction of prison officers but that is probably rather predictable.
So much for so little…just click on the image above
Sentenced prisoners were originally denied the right to vote under the 1870 Forfeiture Act and the ban was retained in the Representation of the People Act of 1983.
Prisoners on remand awaiting trial, fine defaulters and people jailed for contempt of court can already take part in ballots.
Following a legal challenge from prisoner John Hirst, the ECHR ruled in 2004 that the blanket ban was discriminatory and breached the European Convention on Human Rights.
David Cameron is said to be ‘furious’ at having to give way. The alternative though, would be much worse. If the ban were not removed, the UK would be in breach of the Law and that would lead to huge waves of litigation which could potentially cost the tax payer hundreds of millions of pounds.
TheOpinionSite.org is of the opinion that removing the voting ban is long overdue – about a 140 years overdue actually.
If prisoners cannot vote, it is hard to see why they should have any interest whatsoever in society and in reintegrating into the community. The position was further clarified in Raymond v Honey.
Raymond v Honey  arose from the action of a prison governor who blocked a prisoner’s application to a court. The House of Lords affirmed that :
“under English law, a convicted prisoner, in spite of his imprisonment, retains all civil rights which are not taken away expressly or by necessary implication . . .”
So before ignorant politicians, right wing ‘think tanks’ and the tabloids start whinging and moaning about the Human Rights Act and calling for its repeal, it is worth remembering that the above decision was taken in the highest court in Britain, the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) not by a European court.
There is however something else which is much more important about this expected announcement by the Government and it is something shameful.
This Government claims to want to roll back the legal excesses of the last administration which introduced more than 3,000 new criminal offences, most of which carried a prison sentence. Yet the very same David Cameron has also tried to flout laws to which this country is subject and, like his predecessors would send the whole issue into obscurity if he could. So why therefore is he now prepared to comply?
Is it because he is a brave prime minister, is it because of pressure from his Liberal partners, is it perhaps because it might be the right and just thing to do?
Actually it is none of these things.
Cameron is reluctantly giving way (though as yet we don’t know by how much) because if he does not, it will cost the country hundreds of millions in compensation claims and also keep the UK in breach of European Law which is based on a convention drawn up in 1953, mainly by British lawyers. Oh yes, remember it was the Brits who were primarily responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and who expected everyone to abide by it – everyone that is except themselves.
According to one source, Cameron has had lawyers ‘pouring over the problem trying to find a way out‘ but to no avail. Not the actions one would expect of someone who claims to want to do what is right rather than what is politically expedient.
So, congratulations Mr. Hirst. You have won a significant victory and we salute you.
TheOpinionSite.org is only sorry it has taken such a long time to achieve this result but in this (some might say ‘backward’) country, it would be unrealistic to expect anything else.
However, a word of caution is appropriate; read the small print.
History shows that when British governments are forced into obeying laws they don’t like, it is usual for them to seek revenge for the embarrassment that has been caused. Don’t expect the Law to be changed quickly either. They deprived prisoners of the vote in the last election despite warnings from the Court; don’t be surprised if they try to deprive them of the vote in the next.
Some prisoners, lifers and murderers perhaps, may still not get the vote; or the buck may be passed to the judges. Nevertheless, it is a time for celebration, not moaning from people and newspapers who are either completely ignorant of the Law ot just plain stupid and vindictive. They should perhaps remember this:
Most people who go into prison come out again, usually full of hatred for society. At least being able to vote may encourage them to take their rehabilitation seriously, knowing that they are worth something – and also knowing that they can always kick out of power those who made the often unjust laws that put them inside in the first place.