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Voting by Prisoners

Part of Backbench Business — [20th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:54 pm on 10th February 2011.

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Photo of Simon Reevell Simon Reevell Conservative, Dewsbury 3:54 pm, 10th February 2011

I am pleased that this has not just been an in or out of the European Court of Human Rights debate, because many from all walks of life turn to that Court, whether they are concerned about the DNA database or hunting legislation. Who would criticise Gary McKinnon for taking his case there in the face of the Extradition Act 2003? Who, as a matter of principle, would not cast an eye to Strasbourg if a high-speed train route was being put through their constituency? But if it is not in or out, is it much better to talk about pick and choose? Is it really suggested that we can welcome rulings that we like, and simply ignore those that we do not?

Would we dream of taking that course if it were the House of Lords as was that had found in Hirst's favour, and we were talking about a House of Lords judgment? Or in those circumstances, would the mood be that the Government should get themselves to Strasbourg and try to use the ECHR to overcome that ruling? Do we really suggest that some rights should be regulated by legislation in Parliament, over which there should be no prospect of review in the courts? If so, might we pause and wonder what would be on the list alongside prisoner votes? What if control orders, as were, came back and went on the list? What about challenges to the Extradition Act? I do not believe that prisoners should be allowed to vote, but I am more concerned about the rule of law, because we cannot be law-makers and law-breakers.

Cases such as the Hirst ruling catch the eye, but so do decisions of the UK courts, and there have been too many instances where the ECHR jurisdiction has been necessary. A trip to Sandhurst and the view of the officer cadets on the subject of prisoners' votes was mentioned. We used to have a system of justice that basically followed the principle of military justice of "March in the guilty man." We had that system until a man called Findlay, a member of the armed forces, having been turned down by every court in the United Kingdom, went to Strasbourg and won his case. As a result of that, the military justice system was completely overhauled and the previous Government brought in the Armed Forces Act 2006, which, just a few weeks ago, we all ratified so that it continues. Were it not for the ECHR, that system simply would not have changed.

I do not like the Hirst ruling, but I like less the fact that it was ignored for more than five years. On balance, I like even less the idea of picking and choosing when it comes to this nation's legal obligations.