Beyond Irony

On the same day that a court sent a second former MP to jail for fiddling his expenses, the House of Commons voted to defy the ECHR by refusing to give the vote to convicted prisoners.

Truly beyond irony.

I cannot see that the "human rights" argument for giving convicted prisoners the vote is valid. When a court sends someone who has been convicted of an offence to prison, this is a punishment imposed after due process and in accordance with the law, and that punishment consists of the removal or suspension of some of the privileges that the convicted person would otherwise enjoy. His or her liberty is the most obvious of the privileges concerned, but by no means the only one.

As long as it is not done in an obviously unfair or arbitrary way, there is no obvious reason why the right to vote should not be one of the privileges and rights which are withdrawn for the duration of the sentence. (Longer, in the case of someone convicted of electoral fraud: the reason why that is appropriate is too obvious to need rehearsing.)

There is at least one good reason why the right to vote is one of the privileges which should be withdrawn from convicted prisoners during their custodial sentence: such prisoners would have a more serious conflict of interest in casting their votes, in respect of any election in which penal policy was an important issue, than is normal for the typical elector.

Prisoners on remand, who have not yet been convicted of anything, should have the vote on the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty. And such prisoners do already have the right to vote.

And drawing up rules and mechanisms to withdraw the vote from some prisoners but not others, while making those arrangements fairer than withdrawing it from all convicted prisoners for the duration of their sentences, does not strike me either as easy, nor likely to be proof against further ridiculous lawsuits.

I hope that the vote in the House of Commons yesterday will persuade the European Court of Human Rights to think again.


Tim said…
Makes you wonder why we cannot defy the ECHR on numerous other subjects, or better still, have nothing to do with it at all.
Chris Whiteside said…
I have a great deal of sympathy for that. The trouble is that if countries like Britain start to derogate from the ECHR when it is talking nonsense, we limit it's ability to have any impact either here or in other countries on the occasions when the court might be making a completely valid point.

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