Coffee House

Grayling defends stand-off with ECHR on prisoner votes

28 November 2012

Chris Grayling today defended the Government’s decision to square up to the European Court of Human Rights on prisoner votes. The Justice Secretary seemed to enjoy his hour and a half before the Justice Select Committee, and used it to make a number of typically forthright assertions about the criminal justice system.

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn attacked the minister for the government’s decision to refuse to give prisoners the vote, saying:

‘What message does this give to other countries if you are inviting the British parliament and judiciary to pick and choose which ECHR judgements it enacts or doesn’t enact? In any event, you could easily agree with the ECHR by a very minimal level of prisoner voting. What right does that give you then to criticise Hungary for its treatment of gay people and travellers, for Russia for its denial of public assembly in many cases. Does it not just diminish us and diminish the whole process?’


Grayling replied:

‘No, I don’t accept that. I think the fundamental problem here is that the European Court of Human Rights has moved a long way from the views of the original conventions back in the 1950s.’

Corbyn then asked whether this meant that Grayling intended to ‘pick-and-choose’ the judgements from the ECHR that it did or didn’t agree with. Grayling replied that Britain was not the only country in a stand-off with the court, saying:

‘What I would say is I think there is a huge difference between the fundamental principles of human rights which is that you should have a right, if you are a political dissident, or if you committed a crime, to have a fair trial in an open court, to be properly legally represented and able to defend yourself, a huge difference between that and some of the issues that the European Court of Human Rights has been focusing on, not just in this country but in other countries as well.’

He was also rather blunt on his department’s progress in cutting the number of foreign prisoners:

‘I have got a very clear goal in trying to reduce that number but what I would say is that it is not as easy as it appears because what it costs us, it would then cost somebody else and what I am not in the business of doing is taking a rapist from a country in Africa who is in jail here and saying, “well, you go back to Africa and we are not worried if you are in jail or not” because I don’t care where they are: I don’t want dangerous criminals walking the streets.’

Grayling is clearly relishing his new Secretary of State position, including these battles: he could barely restrain himself from grinning throughout the hearing.  He may actually feel rather more relaxed than his predecessor Ken Clarke, at the moment, for the most controversial battle on justice policy is the Justice and Security Bill, which remains Clarke’s responsibility.

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  • John Hirst

    It was a boring session like watching the paint dry as Grayling painted himself into a corner.

    Grayling’s composure was rattled by Corbyn’s questns on prisoners votes. Try as hard as he might Grayling was unable to defend the indefensible.

    It is not only picking and choosing which ECtHR decisions to comply with.but also now picking and choosing which ECHR Articles to abide by. Moreover, the policy of human rights only for those who show civil responsibilities is contrary to international law. Did MPs and Lords act responsibily when fiddling their expenses?


    Unintended consequences CAN be marvellous. IDS refused Justice so Grayling is there.
    Cameron wanted to get Justine Greening away from the Heathrow decision so we have a ?Rotherham-born ACCOUNTANT looking at what’s been happening as former Sec. pushed through spending ? to promote his own CAREER.

  • Rahul Kamath

    Irrespective of the issue Grayling is wrong to defy the sovereignty of the court. They ruled, he must execute. Defying them will result in some cheap popularity (do I hear Gary McKinnon and Theresa May in my ear) but will ruin his and Britains reputation in the medium / long term.

    • Coffeehousewall

      I don’t think we should worry about Britain’s reputation. What matters is British legal sovereignty. The British people do not support convicted criminals being able to vote and that must always trump a political and politicised European court.

  • Madame Merle

    The problem I have with the European court is similar to that of the EU.

    The Common Market was a good thing as is the court but both institutions now go far beyond their original remit and have become liabilities to common sense.

    If prisoners had been complaining about disenfranchisement they kept it very quiet.
    Now a smart lawyer has turned up promising compensation, we can expect to hear a lot more about the prisoners “ooman rights”.

  • Troika21

    If you believe that prisons are there for reform (as I do), then a blanket ban is detrimental to prisoner reformation and it further disconnects them from society.
    Eventually most prisoners are released anyway, so why not try and re-engage them?

    Not only that, but it is the ‘blanket ban’ aspect that the ECHR disagree with and there are plenty of options for dealing with this, so why the stand-off?

    For example you could allow prisoners to vote if there’s and election in the year they’re due to be released.

    • Coffeehousewall

      Why should criminals be allowed such rights? When they are released then they can vote. If they want to ensure they can vote then they should not commit criminal acts against the electorate you are saying they want to be a part of.

      • Troika21

        Because prison is not just about punishment.

        I agree that criminals forfeit many rights, but we should be careful not to take those away that can, in some way, help rehabilitate them back into society.

  • Noa

    “…I think there is a huge difference between the fundamental principles of
    human rights which is that you should have a right, if you are a
    political dissident, or if you committed a crime, to have a fair trial
    in an open court, to be properly legally represented and able to defend

    As with other posters i have written to and emailed Mr Grayling to express my deep concerns over the continued detention without bail of Tommy Robinson, the leader of the EDL, in solitary confinement ‘for his own protection’ and on minor charges.

    Presumably the development of his statement of this principle has precluded any action on Mr Robinson’s case or indeed any replies.

    • telemachus

      I had a tad of sympathy with UKIP when I heard the monstrous decision in Rotherham in last Saturday’s telegraph.
      However we need a debate on whether those who leaflet in Rotherham for the UKIP fruitcakes should be proscribed from reasonable blogs

      • MirthaTidville

        Totally agree…this is a reasonable blog..your a fruitcake (Liebour) ….your proscribed…………bye bye

        • telemachus

          But I would not write in support of an EDL criminal

          • Noa

            Conviction and sentence without trial eh, Comrade? Very old Joe, very very NKVD.

            • telemachus

              There has been a trial
              Judgement – fruitcake
              Action proscribe

              • Noa

                nonsense of course, as usual from Joe’s man.

  • Chris

    It’s a pretty fundamental right that governments shouldn’t be able to swing elections by locking a few people up. That’s why you’re not allowed in a democracy to just stop anyone who is detained from voting.

    Grayling shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose. There’s no excuse.

    • RealTory

      Whereas it is a fundamental right to swing elections by importing
      hundreds of thousands of immigrants from societies that do not have a
      democratic tradition? Of the many rubbish posts one expects on Coffee House, yours is as bad as they come.

    • Border Boy

      It’s a moot point whether voting is a human right or a civil right. I tend to the latter view and consider the ECHR should keep its nose out of things that do not concern it.

      I think it should confine itself much more narrowly to the Convention. Making up laws from very general principles to provide outcomes/judgements which were never intended only brings the court into disrepute.

      • Andy

        The matter of voting was considered when the convention was drawn up. This debate was had then and voting was considered to be a civil not a human right.

        What the ECHR has done is re-write the convetion to suit themselves. That’s the whole problem.

    • DavidDP

      “It’s a pretty fundamental right that governments shouldn’t be able to swing elections by locking a few people up”
      Um, yes. Which is why the relevant rights there are the right to a fair trial, to know your accuser, habeus corpus etc etc. .

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