Picking a fight?

Is today’s Sir Humphrey a complete idiot, or are our politicians deliberately picking a fight with the Court of Human Rights?

I suspect the latter.  To pick such a fight may be no bad thing, but they’re going about it the wrong way.  Don’t just ignore the court on an issue that can painlessly be fixed.  Tackle it much earlier in the development of some dubious issue, and build alliances.  Maybe in the first instance do it by supporting some other government’s fight over a suitable issue.

The court says that a blanket ban on prisoners voting is a violation of their “human rights”.  Government sticks its fingers in its ears.  Hardly anyone wants to give prisoners the vote, and opinions divide, with a suspected majority supporting the government.

But wait a minute, this whole conflict is based on a misrepresentation.  The court hasn’t said “give prisoners the vote”, nor even “give some prisoners the vote”.  It’s just said “don’t operate a blanket ban”.  Even if our politicians are too dumb to see the obvious solution, it can’t have escaped Sir Humphrey – unless of course the meritocracy has vanished from his job and an idiot has been appointed on some politically-correct anti-elitist principle.

Why not just give the responsibility to sentencing judges?  Let the removal (or not) of the vote be a decision for the judge in every conviction (and not just those involving prison).  Keep the status quo as a default, so if a judge says nothing about the vote then the convict loses it while in prison but keeps it while in the community.  Surely that removes the blanket ban – thus satisfying the court – without making anything worse than it is, or even losing face!

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Posted on November 19, 2012, in politics, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. We can’t win here. Whether the powers that be find a compromise or not I can hear the legal aid lawyers’ cash registers ringing already at the thought of even more exorbitant fees for compensation claims, all at the taxpayers’ expense of course: Retrospective claims if the law is changed – claims for breaching “human rights” if it’s not.

  2. It’s not easy to find an authoritative list of what you can get legal aid for, but it looks to me as if suing the government in this sort of context shouldn’t be eligible. Legal aid is basically meant for funding legal defence, not for initiating new cases.

    I would suggest: let the right to vote be a privilege that can be earned while in prison, awarded either at the discretion of the prison governor, or by a parole board. I think that has a better chance of a ‘fair’ outcome than giving the power to judges.

  3. The rules on eligibility for legal aid are byzantine and will change again next April to try and contain the cost, so I wouldn’t like to say for certain one way or the other. However, even if a lawyer takes this up on a “no win no fee” basis, if the prisoner wins (which, given the stance of the ECHR he or she probably will), the taxpayer ends up footing the legal bill anyway.

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