Prisoner Voting (Eligibility) Bill. The Bill contains 3 options but also notes that there 'will no doubt be other possible options.' The options put forward are: a ban for prisoners sentenced to 4 years or more; a ban for prisoners sentenced to more than 6 months or a ban for all convicted prisoners. The third option is, of course, the status quo and cannot be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights Protocol 1 Article 3 in the light of the Strasbourg case law (e.g. Hirst No 2) and note the Supreme Court's recent decision in Chester and McGeogh. In our domestic law, it is open to Parliament to legislate contrary to the European Convention but doing so in this matter will place the UK in breach of its international obligations.
The committee took
evidence from the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland and also from Dominic Grieve QC the Attorney-General. A full viewing of the session is recommended. Parliament was reminded strongly of the need for the UK to abide by its obligations. As Mr Jagland noted - “If the United Kingdom doesn’t implement a judgement from the court, it would set a bad example. If the convention system is weakened or dissolved then it will harm
human rights for millions of citizens on this continent and it will give
much more cover to those who want to have more power at the expense of
the people.” Mr Jagland also noted that defiance, or even withdrawal from the convention system, is “inconceivable,” given
the United Kingdom’s role, as a “founding father” of European human
rights protection after the Second World War and its reputation as a
global defender of treaty obligations.'
The Attorney-General warned the committee that flouting European judges over prisoner voting would risk international "anarchy." Whilst sticking to international rules
could be "irksome" at times, it had been the "settled view" of British governments for
centuries that such obligations should be met - Telegraph 6th October
Both Mr Jagland and Mr Grieve sought to encourage the committee to consider the wider international implications of deliberately retaining the status quo (i.e. Option 3) and thereby denying prisoners the vote.
Some members of the committee were not at all sure that any action will be taken during the current Parliament and some clearly did not want to see any form of voting for prisoners. From the viewpoint of the UK's reputation, it is to be hoped that wiser counsels prevail. Mr Grieve made it clear that, as things stand, either Option 1 or 2 would appear to meet the UK's obligation though the possibility of a future case at Strasbourg deciding otherwise could not be entirely ruled out.
Observations from the Council of Europe were submitted to the joint committee in October.
See also the article by Joshua Rozenberg in The Guardian 6th November
Dr Howard Davis’ post - here.