Later this week the government will ask Parliament to vote again on the issue of prisoner votes. I thought Parliament’s view was quite clear last time. Parliament voted against implementing the European Court of Human Rights requirement that we give votes to prisoners. The votes may be much delayed, as the draft Bill will need extensive scrutiny before coming to a vote.
Apparently this time we will be asked to vote for a new law on the subject, which could be drafted to make it clear again that prisoners will not get the vote in the UK. The government has to avoid looking as if it is doing what is so often done in EU referenda, when a country votes against the views of the EU power brokers. They are asked to vote again, with the intention of getting them to change their minds. The new law must set out that Parliament decides, and the UK will not pay any fines if the ECHR disagrees on this matter.
This issue is now about far more than votes for prisoners. It is about whether Parliament can still make laws without outside interference from foreign judges. Whilst this is not the decisive test of strength with the EU over jurisdiction, it is nonetheless an important moment in the evolution of our constitution. Parliament has to show itself resolute. Government has to show it meant what it said, when the Prime Minister said he was against giving prisoners the vote. This now is a fundamental constitutional issue.