Coffee House

The prisoner voting farce makes the case for Britain leaving the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg Court

2 December 2012

It is hard to watch Chris Grayling’s interview with Andrew Neil on BBC1’s Sunday Politics and not conclude that Britain’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights needs changing. The Justice Secretary effectively concedes that he can’t, as Lord Chancellor, vote to maintain the ban on prisoners voting. But ‘Parliament has the right to overrule the European Court of Human Rights.’ So we’re not stuck, Britain can do what it likes. Or, more accurately, what Parliament votes for.

It looks likely that we’ll end up with Parliament resolving to uphold the ban on prisoner voting, but with the Secretary of State – as Lord Chancellor – obliged to sit out the vote. The Prime Minister and other ministers might have to also abstain because of the ministerial code.

This is clearly a farcical situation and underlines the case for change. Nick Herbert is surely right in his argument that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom should actually do what it says on the tin, and the right of appeal to Strasbourg should be removed.

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  • John Hirst

    Nazi Germany also had a MoJ and court system but neither were able to prevent the holocaust from happening. This is why the ECHR and ECtHR came about. When human rights, democracy and rule of law are threatened simply because the Prime Minister feels physically ill having a supreme court subservient to Parliament does not do what it says on the tin. Therefore an independent outside body provides a check against abuse of power by an authoritarian/totalitarian regime. James Fortsythe may feel comfortable under a dictatorship but I do not.

    • Billy Bob

      John Hirst? Surely not? If you are THE John Hirst then that’s some brass neck you have to come on here and plead for human rights having deprived Mrs Bronia Burton of her right to life with seven thwacks from an axe. Mr Justice Purchis, sentencing you to 15 years in prison said “I have
      no doubt you are an arrogant and dangerous person with a severe
      personality defect” – sounds about right. I don’t the general public will be placing any great weight on your views.

  • Austin Barry

    It’s interesting to speculate for whom The Yorkshire Ripper, Rosemary West and Ian Huntley would vote. I suspect it would be for the Lib Dems – the party of bleeding heart idiots.

  • Daniel Maris

    We all know conventions don’t guarantee rights. Cultures do.

    That’s why however much Russia is a part of the convention it does not enjoy a free and democratic existence.

    Sadly we have been going down the road of obeying the outer forms and losing touch with the culture of freedom through detention without trial, implicit approval for torture, press censorship, attacks on personal liberty and free speech and so on.

    It would be better if we left the convention and reconnected with the culture of democratic freedom.

    • Nick Kaplan

      Well said. I’m fed up of hearing all this nonsense about how we need to be members of an international human rights court in order to protect our human rights from national governments and legislatures. Does anyone who says this really believe that a national government genuinely committed to abusing human rights would be in the least bit worried by rulings of a foreign court that has no power to enforce its judgements? In any event who for one minute believes that such a government would not simply leave the ECHR on coming to power?

      As you rightly say a culture of respect for human rights and freedom generally is far more important. My concern is that the longer we remain a part of this absurd body with its absurd rulings, the more people will hold the concept of human rights in contempt, thinking it equivalent to the nonsense emanating from the ECtHR.

  • dalai guevara

    Prisoner vote? Seriously chaps, you are using this non-issue to persue which cause exactly? After statutory press regulation you now wish to exit the only internationally accepted court for human rights issues. Have you totally gone ill-sung?

  • Chris

    What’s farcical is the government’s posturing when called on to adhere to the most basic international standards of human rights. They’re fond enough of lecturing other countries how to behave. The government and MPs should just shut up and accept the ruling of the court.

    • telemachus

      We need to spread human rights by example

  • Daniel Maris

    Sadly, I have to agree. And that’s because the Strasbourg judges have moved away from the idea of the treaty as a “minimum standards” approach, to trying to micro-manage societies. The treaty was clearly meant to stop extreme abuses such as labour camps without effective trial, slave labour, genocide, prevention of free political activity and so on.

    • TomTom

      Strasbourg “Judges”c is a funny term to use. Many of them have never been either Judges or Advocates but were Civil Servants in the Department of Justice in their home country. Many have no trial experience and have never had a Client so calling them “Judges” is a bit farcical…..many are Civil Servants


    I say this in jest but appparently Henry V111 made appeal to a foreign court TREASON.

    • Charles

      Henry VIII also married his brother’s wife, fought multiple wars, almost bankrupted the country with his self-agrandisment and couldn’t design a ship that didn’t sink.

      Are they all things that we should introduce to modern Britain as well?

      • RealTory

        Marrying your brother’s widow is hardly illegal, though at least it got England its own church. Blair got us into multiple wars on dubious grounds and with his chums Brown, Balls and Milliband bankrupted the UK. Henry of course did not personally design the Mary Rose (she was built around the year he came to the throne) and there are various theories as to why she capsized, but Brown certainly designed a welfare state that has destabilised our country. In general though, things haven’t changed much at all in the last 500 years.

      • TomTom

        Married his brother’s wdow at the insistence of the King of Spain who had the Pope declare Arthur and Katherine had not consummated their marriage. Henry had as much choice in his bride as did Arthur

    • RichieP

      Henry the Eighth wasn’t a German V weapon. It’s a Roman numeral, try harder.

  • TomTom

    Prisons should be one Constituency represented by a Resident MP like Denis MacShane or David Chaytor

  • Matthew Hopkins

    I always liked Chris Grayling; however, with this, he has just shown that he is committed to the EU

    • HooksLaw

      The ECHR has nothing to do with the EU. So how thick does that make you?

      • Matthew Hopkins

        I am aware of that; however, do you honestly think it operates as a separate body ? it is the same monster, just seemingly another head of it

        • HooksLaw

          Explain how the ECHR operates for the EU? Turkey is a signatory to the ECHR. Is turkey in the EU? there are 47 members to the European Convention of Human Rights.
          Are judges appointed by the EU?A classic example of the Queen of Hearts logic commonly found on here.

          • telemachus

            Unlike many of the other characters in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts is not as concerned with nonsense and perversions of logic as she is with absolute rule and execution. In Wonderland, she is a singular force of fear who even dominates
            A bit like Angela Merkel

      • TomTom

        it does as the EU is now a Signatory sui generis to the Convention since 2009

        • HooksLaw

          Individual states are subject to the ECHR and run it. The EU as a body being a part gives rights to citizens against being abused by the EU

          ‘One of these questions is how to ensure that the European Union will be a party to proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights when an alleged infringement of the European Convention originates in an act of an institution of the European Union.’

          • TomTom

            Membership of the ECHR is mandatory for nations joining the EU under 1993 Copenhagen Criteria

            • telemachus

              And this is very appropriate

            • HooksLaw

              Big deal. So what? The ECHR already has 47 members including Turkey and Russia.

            • Hexhamgeezer

              ……and it has the same flag and anthem – but is entirely unconnected appareantly

      • Vulture

        No your Thickness, how thick does that make YOU! Contrary to Europhile propaganda, the ECHR is merely the legal army of the EU tyranny. The judges wear its ill-starred logo on the left shoulder of their robes; the same ill-starred logo is woven into the very carpet covering the courtroom floor, and its a condition of Eurozone membership that Euro-states accept the ECHR’s ludicrous decisions. I think the links are all too clear – except to the very thick, of course.

      • Allectus

        Since the the Treaty of Rome contains a clause requiring the establishment of “all appropriate forms of cooperation” with the Council of Europe, and the EU is shortly to accede to the ECHR – a step possible only because all EU member states have ratified the Convention, and one which will allow the EU to appoint a judge to the ECHR and give the ECHR jurisdiction over EU institutions – it would seem to me that the two institutions are intimately and inextricably linked.

        (A tip: ignorance and pedantry are an unhappy combination.)

    • telemachus

      Grayling’s position is stupid
      But then grayling showed himself stupid in his last post
      Can’t we rid ourselves of these idiots

  • HooksLaw

    So Mr Forsyth we set up the ECHR and then refuse to abide by it? Even before the change in law by Blair, UK citizens always had the right to appeal to the ECHR. Can you tell us how many other European states refuse right of appeal?
    You are seriously suggesting removing the right of all UK citizens to appeal to the ECHR? Something which would make us less civilised than Turkey?
    And this after the ECHR has said that the UK govt has discretion on which prisoners it allows to vote

    The depths sunk by The Spectator continue to plummet.

    • Keith

      Why would removing the jurisdiction of the ECHR make us “less civilised than Turkey”? What a bizarre assertion.

      • HooksLaw

        Of course it is not bizarre. We would be denying our citizens a right they have had since 1950 and which remains open to the citizens of Turkey. Indeed UK citizens would be more disadvantaged than the citizens of Russia.

        The Convention and now the Court is always being reformed. No doubt it will be reformed in future.

        • Andy

          Well Voting for Prisoners was considered when the convention was originally drawn up, as is shown by the papers, and it was rejected as a ‘right’ for the reasons set out. Thus it remained for over 50 years. Suddenly the ECHR decides to rewrite the convention, or rather drive a coach and four through it, to make it a ‘right’. The problem here is that the Court has not stuck to what it should be doing and that is enforcing the Convention, but has moved on to rewriting the bloody thing. Unacceptable.

          • HooksLaw

            I do not think prisoners should have a vote. The ECHR has given leeway to ministers in applying the judgement.
            ‘that general, automatic and indiscriminate disenfranchisement of all serving prisoners, irrespective of the nature or gravity of their offences, is incompatible with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections). However, it accepted the argument made by the United Kingdom Government, who had been given leave to make submissions as a third party, that each State has a wide discretion as to how it regulates the ban, both as regards the types of offence that should result in the loss of the vote and as to whether disenfranchisement should be ordered by a judge in an individual case or should result from general application of a law.’

            None of this justifies withdrawing from the Convention.

            note the Scroppola decision which upholds the decision from banning him from ‘voting’.

            • Andy

              Yes well . . . .

              When the damn convention was written in 1950 no prisoner had the vote, so that was compatible with the convention. All the 1980s act did was restate the previous law. So how come it was compatable with the convention in 1950 and is not in 2005 ?

              It means that the ECHR has rewritten the convention or are intruputing it incorrectly.

              • TomTom

                They probably feel Crooks should be able to vote for Crooks

            • Nick Kaplan

              And why can it not be within this ‘wide-discretion’ to decide that the relevant point at which an offence is of sufficient gravity to justify disenfranchisement is the same point at which the offence is of sufficient gravity to justify imprisonment? Anyone who thinks imprisonment is more serious than disenfranchisement (which I would suggest is anyone with a brain), must recognise that this is at least a legitimate policy to adpot, and hence that the ECtHR should butt out.

        • Keith

          Your logic is flawed. The possession of a right by Turkish citizens (or Russian citizens) that is not available to British citizens does not mean that Turkey (or Russia) is a more civilised country. You are trying to haul yourself up by your own bootstraps.

          The ECHR is a blunt instrument for dealing with legal rights and obligations. Only uncivilised countries need it. Civilised countries are better off with the rule of law, which requires that rights and obligations be defined precisely, rather than by reference to vague ‘rights’ the precise content of which is open to endless debate and interpretation.

          As I say, your proposition is bizarre.

          • HooksLaw

            The ECHR is what we were instrumental in creating and have been a party to amending. Its bizarre that any sane person should suggest we withdraw from it.

            UK citizens have had the right to appeal to it for decades. Your so called argument is totally bonkers.

            BTW in a recent ruling the ECHR restricted the rights of ‘family life’ in respect of criminals
            In the case of a British mother, the court decided: “The best interests of the children, even when weighed together with Mrs H’s own article 8 right to respect for her family life with them, are not strong enough to
            overcome the overwhelming public interest in giving effect to the
            extradition request.”

            The HRA incorporated the Convention into UK law, its UK judges who have been bonkers in applying it.

            • TomTom

              Britain created the League of Nations but ignored it in 1939 and breached its Charter

            • Keith

              You have not identified a single reason for remaining subject to the jurisdiction of the ECHR. You appear unable to distinguish between argument and abuse. You are certainly unable to reason with any rigour so there is no point is continuing this debate.


              • HooksLaw

                The central example that I have given is that we cannot lecture other countries if we are plainly less willing to expose ourselves to scrutiny than they are. Shock horror of all the 47 countries in the ECHR we are somehow and suddenly to be the only ones to refuse to take part? what is so uniquely brilliant about Britain? i suppose all the xenophobes out there will be lightening quick with answers.

                I have also given examples rational ones not abusive ones why the casus belli of prisoners rights is widely overblown. THe ECHR are indeed happy to allow prisoners to be deprived of the vote. Their rulings show it.
                You are clearly unable to distinguish anything.

                • TOMTOM

                  Why should we LECTURE other countries ? You are a Neo-Colonialist full of Hubris

                • Nick Kaplan

                  I’m sorry but I just cannot see why a democratic parliament voting not to allow prisoners the right to vote, in accordance with years legal tradition, in a country which gave the world the concept of the rule of law, and completely in accordance with the principle of parliamentary soverignty, could possibly mean we were no longer in a position to condem fundamental abuses of human rights in other countries.

            • Daniel Maris

              HooksLaw –

              You’re getting so hysterical about this, I am beginning to think you must be a human rights lawyer whose livelihood depends on the ECHR.

        • TomTom

          Turkey has 94 journalists in jail so clearly Turkey is ahead of the UK and neither the EU nor ECHR are too much fussed

    • William Blakes Ghost

      Do you think that the UK Supreme Court is less capable of dispensing justice in this country than some remote unaccountable foreign institution? Do you think that the ECHR is better at dispensing justice than our Courts, our Government and our Parliament?

      Do you think our courts, our government and our Parliament are ‘less civilised’ than their European counterparts ands we need to ECHR to be civilised? Do you believe that the appeals process in this country is inadequate?

      It seems to me your sole justification for remaining with the ECHR is that it gives people who refuse to accept British law another opportunity to challenge it and secondly that other countries are still signed up to it and thridly we’ve been signed up to it for fifty years.

      What net benefit does it provide this country? After all if its purely the fact that it gives people another outlet to challenge a decision why stop there? Why not let them appeal to the US Supreme Court or perhaps even the UN? Yes thats it lets let them appeal to the Security Council. China and Russia can then help decide how we run our country too!

      The question to be answered is simple. Why do we need the ECHR when we have a perfectly good legal system of our own?

      The assessment on whether we should remain in the ECHR is simple. Does it provide a net benefit to this country? If not we should ditch it and it doesn’t matter if every nation around the globe was signed up to it, or how long we have been signatories or if we were one of the initiators, if it no longer works for us ~ Ditch It.

      • HooksLaw

        Our legal system is perfectly good? It was the ECHR which allowed the Sunday times to tell the story of thalidomode.
        No doubt the French Germans Italians and Spanish etc all have a sound view of their legal systems.

        It was a Briton, Sir Humphrey Waldock, who said “I propose to sketch for you a broad picture of the Convention as a European Bill of Rights – a Bill of Rights for free Europe. It is that aspect of the Convention which is supremely important”. So from the beginning British ninfluence has been strong.

        For decades British people had the right to refer claims to the ECHR, all through the Thatcher years when the issue arose she saw no reason to walk out of the so called optional clauses. Now again for some reason – horror upon horror it has the word ‘Europe’ in it – we must withdraw.

        Yet again we see the xenophobic tendency of UKIPers shine through.

    • Keith

      Here’s a question. Can anyone think of a single example of a ruling against the UK government by the ECHR that (a) an English court would not have supported in any event as a matter of non-human rights English law and (b) was in itself a just and desirable outcome?

    • TomTom

      Actually the decision to implement the Rulings of the ECHR rests on a Treaty from which Britain can withdraw. It is a voluntary decision to implement Rulings of the Court – other States like France simply ignore the Rulings

  • Vulture

    Totally agree, James. So why doesn’t Dave do it? (The LIb Dems are hardly in a position to object).

    This is yet another case of jelly-bellied lack of leadership that is causing the Conservative party to fall apart all around us.

    THe desperate unpopularity of the Coalition is going to hand Downing Street to the two Eds on a plate. If they suspended membership of the ECHR and brought in a British Bill of Rights to replace it this would be an enormously popular move in the country. But I keep forgetting, as his every move indicates, Dave despises this country and its people.

    • telemachus

      Yes vulture
      And then what do we say to the repressive East European regimes who want to screw down their populations

      • Steerage

        They ignore the Euro court’s rulings wholesale. Not noticed have you?

        • telemachus

          And so we should lead by example

          • Madame Merle

            By quitting the ECHR and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights we would be leading by example, other countries would follow.

            The same thing goes for the EU, then Germany wouldn’t want to pay for the others and the whole rotten house of cards would tumble.

            We could call it the European Spring.

            • telemachus

              Western Europe is free
              Do not destroy our moral authority

            • NeilMc1

              Steady Madame Merle, you got might all excited at that thought!

      • Nick Kaplan

        Only a moron incapable of subtlety could possibly think that because a democratically elected parliament decides to uphold centuries of legal tradition by asserting its authority over an unelected foreign court, the country in which that happens thereby loses the authority to condemn actual abuses of genuine human rights.

        • telemachus

          Sad but true
          Despite Mau Mau and on we still have moral authority in these matters
          I am hoping the little englanders do not destroy it

    • telemachus

      And another thing
      Is it not a good thing that the coalition are so unpopular
      Then we can get back to competent government with the 2 Eds

      • Hexhamgeezer

        Gargantuan Tit

        • telemachus

          Gargantuan Truth is truth

    • Heartless etc.,

      Thank you Vulture. And not only does the H2B despise this country and its people, – he is the delivery boy tasked with handing what’s left of the UK to Brussels ‘on a plate’.

      What a repulsive character, – but fully living down to the level so many of us on here predicted at the time of his elevation, – if such it was.

      • HooksLaw

        Absurd garbage.

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