Treaty law and Parliamentary law

 

               Parliament bared a few teeth yesterday. It passed its motion condemning the idea of votes for prisoners. There were many speeches against this proposal, and fewer in favour.

              The government reminded Parliament that the UK is bound by its signature on the Human Rights Convention. This falls to be adjudicated by the European Court of Human Rights. Government  Ministers did not vote, as they felt bound to observe the rules of the Court.

               We now have an interesting impasse. Ministers need to tell the Court that the High Court of Parliament does not agree with the ECHR’s ruling on this matter. There is a conflict of view and of jurisdiction. Mnay people in the Uk will think, whatever the legal position, that if the people and their MPs do not want something, they should not have to have it.

              A wise Court would reconsider. A wise government will scale back the proposals to implement the Court’s judgement and seek a position more people can accept. Some MPs yesterday were prepared to accept a compromise, some would like to carry it further and if necessary repudiate the Convention.

               Who knows what will happen next?  The government stepped aside and allowed a free vote. It now has to show that a vote in Parliament does count for something.  It may be possible to please both sides with a compromise. If not there will be further rows. On yesterday’s showing there is no majority in the House to implement the Court’s wishes, but I guess some MPs might change their minds if the government said it had to obey the Court after all.

              What is Parliament for, if it is not to judge just these kind of issues, and for MPs to face their electors and justify the votes they cast?

             Had Mrs Main’s amendment been put I suspect Parliament would also have voted to refuse  any compensation to prisoners denied the vote. After all, prisoners lose other human rights by being in prison – the right to free association, and the right to come and go as they please, but not even the ECHR thinks they deserve compoensation for losing those human rights.

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39 Comments

  1. lifelogic
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    “What is Parliament for, if it is not to judge just these kind of issues, and for MPs to face their electors and justify the votes they cast?”

    That would make a pleasant change. Parliament is the only real thin tissue of democracy in the UK. It is the only protection for voters against the huge growing and overpowering state and EU and ultimately virtual enslavement of citizen through taxation and regulation. Hugely weak and ineffective it has proved to be as MPs are, as we have seen, often either venal expense grabbing career politicians or simple party men who respond to party or consultancy fees rather than the voters as the system clearly encourages and rewards such actions.

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 11, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      Prince Charles with the usual EU officials has launched a blistering attack on “climate sceptics”, saying they are “failing” future generations.

      Is this the same Prince Charles who has several huge houses and spends much of his time flying round the world on planes, helicopters and fast cars by any chance? Can he tell us what will be the total carbon emitted by the royal wedding and its guests for example?

      The EU’s absurd false allocation of funding towards the green politically inspired agenda is the true threat. He might at least have the decency to act in accordance with his pronouncements should he wish to be taken remotely seriously.

      But some good news too – I understand that clamping (legalised motorist mugging) is to be banned on private land. Alas not on public land too.

      • Stuart Fairney
        Posted February 12, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        Another awesome double standard, so it’s okay for the state still to mug (ie clamp) people but don’t the rest of you try it.

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 11, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      I read this morning that the revenue propose to increase, yet again, fines and late interest penalties for late returns. Yet another back door tax and kick in the teeth for wealth creators who already have to deal with the most absurdly complex tax system.

      One which the revenue themselves are clearly incompetent to understand or administer as we have seen time and again.

      • lifelogic
        Posted February 11, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        Fines even for people who owed no tax anyway I see.

        • alan jutson
          Posted February 12, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

          Lifelogic

          Yes, when sending in a tax return or tax communication in any way, always get a proof of postage receipt from the Post Office.

          Reason: It is proof (which they will accept) that you sent it in on time, even when they initially say you were late, and fine you automatically.
          I have had 5 fines cancelled in the last 3 years by proving I had posted monthly construction industry returns many days before they were due, by simply sending them a copy of the posting receipt.

          letters and returns seem to be recorded as received very many days after first class posting, not sure if it is inefficient office proceedure or the post office delay in delivering.

          Also interesting that any communication recieved from the Inland revenue takes between 7-14 days to arrive after the communication has been dated. !

      • Winston Smith
        Posted February 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        What about the reductions on capital allowances, and especially the the huge reduction on the investment allowance from £100k to £25k?
        Do we want a manufacturing recovery or not?

        • Stuart Fairney
          Posted February 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

          Not.

          Obviously.

  2. Mike Stallard
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Now let’s be clear on this. Parliament, which we elected to represent our views, overwhelmingly voted against letting murderers, rapists, petty criminals and paedos, none of whom have respected the law in their lives, actually making our laws and choosing our representatives.
    The High Court which is composed of unnamed, unelected people from lands with very, very different legal traditions, some formed under Stalin, some under the Turks, most under Absolute Monarchy or Napoleon, decided (arbitrarily?) that they should.
    Is this the break up of the EU – yes, yes, I know it is really the ECHR? But is it the start?

  3. Alte Fritz
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    The ECHR creates a problem because although we are bound by a treaty obligation, it is not a treaty in the normal sense which can be managed consensually. It sits squarely with the EU in the loss of sovereignty category.

    Here is a chance to assert sovereignty on an issue which would enjoy near universal public support.

    The government will not do so.

    We are no longer a sovereign nation.

  4. Peter van Leeuwen
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    In the Netherlands, voting is a “human right” which can only be withdrawn by specific individual court sentences, limited by both our constitution and penal code. Likewise, to withdraw voting rights from those mentally incapable would require individual court verdicts.
    No Dutch minister ever got “physically ill” over this.

    The suggestion to first try and improve the EHCR from within might be a good one. Its huge backlog is partly due to Russian deranging after anger over Russian individuals winning cases brought against their government. An improved ECHR is also good for human rights outside Britain.

    • Christopher Ekstrom
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      If trials at The Hauge are any indication then the Netherlands is not an example that the second greatest legal system in the world (USA, of course, being first) has nothing to learn from you. Will Charles Taylor trial still be on in ten years. Or perhaps he will just die during The Trial; Kafka with a dash of Orwell. You should be very proud.

  5. J Mitchell
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    I know of no one who thinks that prisoners should have the vote. If you break your contract with society so badly that you find yourself incacerated for it, then you forfeit certain privileges of belonging to that society. The “right to vote” is not a fundamental human right. I simply do not understand how it has been considered to be so. It has nothing to do with rehabilitation and reintegration into society. If it did surely voting would be an obligation not a right? At the end of the day the vast majority of people in this country do not want convicted criminals in prison to have the vote. Our Parliament does not want it. This should be an end to the matter. The ECHR should recognise that this is what we want and allow us to proceed accordingly. Europe is interesting because all the countries have their different histories and traditions. Homogenisation would destroy all that, but perhaps there are those who would consider that a good thing.

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I cannot see how a compromise such as allowing prisoners with sentences of less than 4 years will do anything but create a further opportunity for someone to argue that they are having being deprived of their ‘rights’ and being discriminated against. Also, if the ECHR is prepared to accept such a view from the UK government, why should it not accept a view that stated that it was the will of the British people and parliament that prisoners should not be allowed to vote whilst incarcerated? Those who support votes for criminals talk endlessly about the need for prisoner rehabilitation and that allowing them to vote will help them to turn away from crime – what a pity that it had no such effect when they were allowed to vote before being convicted of their crimes!

  7. Javelin
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Something that is rarely mentioned is that there are two power structures here – a political one and a legal one. The UK political system has disagreed withe EU legal system. So for me the next action will be the EU legal system telling the UK legal system to tell the UK to pay prisoner compensation. So it depends who controls the funds – I presume the Home Secretary. So it will fall to Theresa May to tell the EU court to “bog off” and she recognises Parliamentary Sovereignty. In other words the Home Secretary sits above the European Courts purely by virtue of their power.

  8. Electro-Kevin
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the good work, Mr Redwood.

  9. Iain Gill
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    “What is Parliament for” somewhere warm for public school folk who studied PPE at Oxbridge to hang out, we cannot have them doing proper jobs out in the real world can we

  10. Posted February 11, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Exactly right Mr Redwood. If Parliament and our government fails to stand up for what they believe what use are they to the people of Britain?

  11. Acorn
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I have a dream. Britons get back to doing what they have always done best; running the rest of the world. We are the world’s best diplomats. We know how to run empires. We invented most of the world’s supranational bodies; or, at least taught others how to do it. The ECHR needs updating to the twenty first century; or, should be scrapped and replaced with a UN equivalent. (The latter also needs a bit of fixing.)

    The country with the most guns and assorted war machines, doesn’t get this diplomacy thing. Particularly as most of its politicians would have trouble finding Egypt on a map. Fortunately for them, most of their voters couldn’t find Puerto Rico on a map even though they own it.

    Question JR please. “Mr Speaker: I must inform the House that I have selected neither of the two amendments on the Order Paper”. What or who decides an amendment is called? Why don’t the members jump up and down screaming when their amendment is not called? Do the PM’s amendments always get selected?

    Reply: The Speaker selects the amendments. Yes, the PM’s amendments would usually be called , because the Speaker knows a majority of the House is likely to want them to be taken. So also the Leader of the Opposition’s amendments are likely to be called, because he speaks for the second biggest voting bloc.

  12. Sally C.
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Sorry this is not on topic, JR, but yesterday the MPC announced no change to Base Rate. They couldn’t even raise it by a token 25 basis points, yet they must have known that the Producer Input and Output figures, released today, were going to be terrible.
    I am quoting directly from the ONS report. ‘ The total input price index rose by 13.4 per cent, compared with a rise of 12.9 per cent in the year to December 2010. The input price index for the manufacturing industry excluding the food, beverages tobacco and petroleum industries rose 9.9 per cent. ‘
    On Output Prices, in the year to January 2011, ‘The output price index for home sales of manufactured products rose 4.8 per cent, compared with 4.1 per cent last month.’
    Apparently, between December 2010 and January 2011, ‘ the output price index for home sales of manufactured products rose 1.0 per cent, mainly reflecting price rises in petroleum, food and chemical products.’ That would be a 12% annualised rate of increase.
    What exactly are we paying the MPC for, because it is clearly not to maintain the purchasing power of the Pound.

  13. Martyn
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    John, exactly so – what is Parliament for if not…..
    One major problem is that too many disenchanted people see Parliament as a rubber-stamp for EU directives. Until now, perhaps. I have no fixed view on prisoner’s voting rights, but in order to vote one must be registered on an electoral roll. Has anyone tried to find out (e.g. a simple paper question of all prisoners to state where they are registered) how many prisoners are actually on electoral rolls? Surely only those who are might have a claim against the government if it continues to resist the EUCR?

  14. Posted February 11, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Let’s hope this is just the start, with Parliament telling the government that it wants to make the decisions for the British people who elected it, not the ministers and certainly not a non-elected European organisation. Logically, parliament should have gone one step further, and in order to prevent legal claims, placed a maximum limit on the amount of compensation anyone could claim for a lost vote as £1.
    Perhaps parliamentarians are realising at last that if they allow things to continue the way they are, with parliament just rubber-stamping or deciding on how to implement laws made by others, they would effectively become mere civil servants with no power to make any real decisions. Exactly like they have emasculated the County and local councils over the years so that they can’t do what the locals want, but only what the government requires.

    • Joiner
      Posted February 11, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      Yes I hope that this the start. Has the worm started to turn at last?

  15. Paul H
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Hopefully you mean “bared” a few teeth. I know society has become increasingly authoritarian over the last decade or so, but I trust we have yet to reach the stage where the authorities feel empowered to proscribe parts of our anatomy!

  16. Posted February 11, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    An example has been set in the south mediterranean,unless we really do govern ourselves in Everything,at some stage it WILL come here .Last week 1500 EDF supporters marched in Luton,at some stage soon it could be 15000. 10,000 turned into 1,000,000 in Cairo
    in just 3 weeks,that is a 1000 fold increase,giving criminals the vote is an affront to hard working law abiding taxpayers it was the main topic of conversation on monday this week
    in my pub with between 30 and 40 ALL having a say,it is symbolic of our Supine political class,who have let it come this far,especially those at the top.Unless we stop this EU inspired juggernaut in it,s path,we are headed for what the Film EQUILIBRIUM portrays our unelected masters will make us Self Medicate to become compliant,yet there will still be resistance as in that film,which wins in the end.Why is it that a minority [The Resistance]
    do what is necessary to make things better for the majority,I wouldn,t ,at my age I [65]
    don,t care my attitude is you made your bed now lie in it,as my father said to me,I actually hold the Silent majority in contempt and at any opportunity tell them.

    • Winston Smith
      Posted February 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      Quite agree. Far too many people whinge, but are apathetic when it comes to make a stand. This cannot continue. This is why I admire the EDL organisers. Actually the their march was attended by about 5,ooo; watch the footage. The authorities and the BBC conspired to publicise an underestimation.

  17. A.Sedgwick
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    A woman Guardian journalist was sounding off on the radio news at 10 last night saying public opinion did not matter and neither did the view of parliament and that this unelected court made up of 70+ representatives (some aren’t judges apparently) from the countries was legally supreme. This view is indicative of the completely skewed working of democracy that has developed over the last 20 years. Cameron is proving his usual indecisive self. Can you imagine Mrs. Thatcher not voting and not swinging the proverbial handbag.
    The tragic irony of all this legal nonsense is that we as a nation are still the most tolerant and civilised society in the world and to be lectured by this court is appalling.

    • sjb
      Posted February 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

      A. Sedgwick writes: “[W]e as a nation are still the most tolerant and civilised society in the world […]”

      Thirty Contracting States to the European Convention on Human Rights permit prisoners to vote either without any restriction or with limitations: see para 33 of Hirst v UK (No 2) [2005] ECHR 681.
      http://www.bailii.org/eu/cases/ECHR/2005/681.html

  18. sm
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Indeed! A principle needs to be established why not now?

    Anybody notice the BBC now seems to acknowledge the extra costs and burdens of immigration. It reports on this in the Today program.
    Approx a potential (£3.5bn) tax cut in the wings, note no effect on essential frontline services.

    Difficult choices?

    Next up the EU?

  19. BobE
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    If prisoners were to be given the vote then were would there residence to vote be?
    If they have a residence elsware to the prison would it be there? But many prisoners are not listed, except at the prison, so would these then vote in the ward of the prison? What about prisoners that have no right of residency and are due to be deported.
    BobE,
    Region 6,
    EUSSR

  20. Bill
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Yes. From the way some people talk about the ‘rule of law’, you would think that all laws are of equal importance and equal worth. The old Soviet Constitution contained laws that were discriminatory, but they were still laws. If you listen to the debate you discover, I believe, that the granting of votes to prisoners was only a majority decision and that, in any case, they had, when we accepted the Treaty, acknowledged that some people (e.g. Members of the House of Lords) would not vote.

  21. Christopher Ekstrom
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood,

    I have read your blog with interest the last several weeks. This is the best yet. Why? You simply tell the truth. Your wistfall tone Tells a tale: The Fall of the (officially) UK (really, & most sady, England). When a member of parliment (from the right!) is so lost he cannot decide if a perverse hermeutic ploy by alot of illegitimate ( a word virtually banned by PC police) “judges” from Wallyland overrides a vote in our legitimate political forum; game over! Thank you for showing us that we are doomed. It seems to me total devolution is England’s hope. The much derrided Little England would be free & capable. Cameron is right (this once) that multicultralism does not work: England is our culture. And it’s managed to survive a thousand years without conquest. Only traitors from the inside might best England in this absurd farce our foolish tolerance allowed to be spawnded.

  22. Hereward
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    “Ministers did not vote, as they felt bound to observe the rules of the Court.”

    How sad that those who are Privy Councillors don’t feel bound to observe their oath to “defend all Jurisdictions, Pre-eminences, and Authorities, granted to Her Majesty, and annexed to the Crown by Acts of Parliament, or otherwise, against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States, or Potentates.”

  23. Alan Wheatley
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    I switched on BBC Parliament just after 1PM and followed the debate to the vote.

    It is interesting that only 22 voted against.

    I learnt a lot about the ECHR, its operation and quality, and that they have taken it upon themselves to expand their jurisdiction way beyond what was originally intended in the charter that the UK agreed to. Also that there is widespread disregard of its decisions by signatories to the Charter.

    It also remains that the ECHR is not simply sitting in judgment on the law but is determining what the law should be, and is doing so with disregard to the wishes of people who come within its reach. This is fundamentally undemocratic, and if anything is a breach of my human rights then surely this is.

    Excellent contributions from many Members provided various grounds for the UK to decline to be dictated to by the ECHR’s ruling. The overwhelming vote in favour of the motion should provide the Government with the motivation to exploit those grounds.

  24. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    The decision of the ECHR to require at least some prisoners to be given the vote was rejected by the Commons by 212 votes, a big margin. The majority included a large number of Conservatives. Although abstaining himself, the Prime Minister positively encouaged members of the House to vote with their consciences.

    If the Conservative Party is not prepared to follow the arguement where it leads and refuse to recognise the court, then it is not worth voting for.

  25. John Bracewell
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    Voting cannot be a Human Right. It is a privilege which comes with being a law abiding citizen of some area of the world where voting takes place.
    If voting in the local elections in May or the next General Election was a Human Right then every human on the planet would have the right to vote. Also, if voting is a Human Right then all British people should be able to vote in the French or German or any other country’s elections, otherwise their Human Right to vote would have been violated. I think this is called a proof by absurdity.
    Voting is in no way like real Human Rights such as an individual’s right not to be tortured, killed or maimed, or starved, or held in slavery etc.
    Since voting is a privilege, it has nothing to do with the European Convention on Human Rights. Also, as a privilege it is in the gift of the country/council organising an election and can be withdrawn from those who are not law abiding.

  26. lojolondon
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Firstly, a vote is not a human right, it is a civil right. In the UK you lose civil rights along with your liberty when incarcerated.

    Secondly, I notice that very few countries in the EU grant full voting rights to prisoners, only Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Switzerland, Hungary and Slovakia. All the others discriminate between prisoners. As usual, the UK has taken the ECHR ruling at face value and tried to implement it in it’s harshest form, full rights for all prisoners, which is why we now have the situation we are in.

  27. Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Was it the European Court or some other EU organisation that threatened France for deporting the Roma? They huffed and they puffed, but France ignored them, so they crawled back into their holes to “Consider” the matter.
    They know they cannot afford to upset the UK to such an extent that we might actually pull out of the treaty and so are likely to be “disappointed”, but nothing else.
    But its a pity that parliament didn’t put a limit on potential compensation, say 50p with the claimant paying the costs!

  28. APL
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    JR: “A wise Court would reconsider. A wise government will scale back the proposals to implement the Court’s judgement and seek a position more people can accept.”

    A typical quisling response. Gutless!

    Simply withdraw from the ECHR. Finished.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

    Promoted by David Edmonds on behalf of John Redwood both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU

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