Fri, 11 Feb 2011
Proposed restrictions in prisoner voting rights undermine the government’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law, warns barrister and former government minister.
Political pressure from all parties to restrict prisoner voting rights seems likely to bring the present government directly into conflict with the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights, a former government minister has warned.
David Lock, who served as a junior minister in the Lord Chancellor’s Department in the last Labour government and now heads the public law team of barristers at No5 chambers, said today that watering down the right to vote would undermine the government’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law.
“Human rights exist to protect all, including minorities who may be unpopular with other sectors of society and who do not have the benefit of political power,” explained David.
“These rights are a legitimate check on the rule of the majority. In 2005 the European Court of Human Rights decided that, in principle, universal suffrage meant that convicted prisoners should not lose the right to vote. The government may not agree with that decision but its commitment to the rule of law and human rights means that it really cannot adopt a "pick and mix" approach” to court judgments, implementing the ones it agrees with and ignoring the ones it dislikes.
“Successive governments have committed themselves to both human rights and the rule of law and Britain's government has signed up to the European Convention of Human Rights. However, these statements only have value when the government has to consider difficult and unpopular cases.
“Giving prisoners the vote is politically difficult and unpopular, but the government should accept that it is bound by the decisions of the courts like everyone else.”