Thursday, 20 January 2011

Campers in Parliament Square and in Parliament ... Sentencing of Edward Woollard ... Prisoners voting

It has been an interesting few days in London.  Protesters in Parliament Square have been given letters stating that legal action will be taken against them if they continue to obstruct pavements - see  BBC 17th January.  Of course, Ministers are on record as saying that these protesters have to be cleared away so that they do not spoil the Royal wedding procession (Telegraph 25th November 2010).  Meanwhile, it seems that peers of the realm have been camping within the House of Lords - see BBC 18th January.  Peers allied to the Labour Party have opposed the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill which seeks to reduce the number of Parliamentary Constituencies from 650 to 600 and to change to the "Alternative Vote" (AV) system.  The Labour Party is concerned that this will be to the electoral benefit of the Conservative and perhaps Liberal Democrat parties.  They may be right but, it should be noted, Labour enjoys a bias in the system as it is at present.  Given that the Bill seeks to make a major constitutional change, it would have been preferable for it to have undergone a phase of "pre-legislative scrutiny."   There is a serious question over how constitutional change is being managed and such changes ought not to be made for political advantage.  If the Bill goes through, the electorate will be able to vote on 5th May in a referendum to choose between "first-past-the-post" and the "alternative vote."

Whilst on the topical subject of protest, Law and Lawyers recently touched on the 32 month sentence handed down to Edward Woollard who, during protests
over student fees at Millbank Tower, threw a fire extinguisher from the roof - (see Law and Lawyers).   The sentence seemed, in all the circumstances, to be unduly harsh.  Lawyer David Allen Green has considered the case in an article in The New Statesman.   Mr Green questions whether a charge of Violent Disorder was the correct charge to bring against Mr Woollard and the value of "deterrent sentencing" is also looked at.  Mr Green wrote - " ... this is the type of conviction and sentence which may itself tend to undermine the legitimacy of the state and its administration of justice. It appears that although Woollard was a bloody idiot, this could well be the wrong offence and the wrong sentence."

The politically thorny topic of Prisoners and Voting is exercising the minds of many politicians and bloggers.  There has been a coming together of Mr Jack Straw and Mr David Davis - (described by Lawthink as an "unholy alliance") - and they have secured a vote in the Commons in the near future.  The Head of Legal blog considers the Strasbourg cases which, taken together, can hardly be said to offer a clear cut answer though they undoubtedly tend to favour prisoners being allowed to vote (with only limited exceptions and subject to judicial decision).   The UK Human Rights blog also examines this issue and the likelihood that denying the vote may cost the British taxpayer a lot of money in "just satisfaction".  The U.K. has dodged this issue for long enough and the Council of Europe is rightly pressing for it to be resolved.  Politicians might wish to have a bright-line solution - e.g. no voting if sentenced to X or more.  However, that may be susceptible to further challenges on human rights grounds. It is in the interests of the U.K. to settle this matter once and for all.   CharonQC has also done a few paragraphs on this and says that he is "a pragmatist.  How many prisoners will actually bother to vote?  What percentage of the prison population will be ‘bovvered’?   There are, in my view, far more important and pressing human rights issues than resisting ECHR judgments on this."

Addendum 24th January 2011:  "Are deterrent sentences ever justified?"  Barrister David Rhodes looks at this in The Guardian.  Please see also Law and Lawyers Deterrence No. 2

1 comment:

  1. Politicians might wish to have a bright-line solution - e.g. no voting if sentenced to X or more. However, that may be susceptible to further challenges on human rights grounds. Best Lawyers