The Attorney General himself went to argue his case in the Supreme Court against claims from prisoners that they were owed compensation as they had a right to vote in elections. This issue has become the cause of friction between the UK Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights. These latest two cases saw prisoners seek to bring cases under EU law, which post Lisbon is increasingly moving into human rights matters.
As someone who thinks we keep too many people in prison, and thinks we need to do more to train and educate prisoners so they can lead a more worthwhile and law abiding life on exit, I have not been leading the campaign to prevent prisoners voting. I do, however, think it is a very good example of exactly the kind of issue a sovereign country chould decide for itself through Parliament. I am against any moves by any European Court to change Parliament’s policy.
The victory of the Attorney General in yesterday’s judgement is therefore welcome. So too is the definitive statement in the judgement about Parliament’ s supremacy in this matter:
“the legislation (UK election law) is entirely clear and it would flatly contradict the evident intention of the UK (if it required some prisoners to vote). It would also be impossible for the Supreme Court itself to devise an alternative scheme of voting eligibility that would or might pass muster in a domestic or supra-national European court…Such matters would be beyond its jurisdiction….That being so the creation of any new scheme must be a matter for the UK Parliament”
However, the long and complex judgement serves to remind anyone who reads it just how much encroachment on our affairs there is from ECJ as well ECHR law. The Judges did not agree with the Attorney General that they should disregard previous ECHR judgements in favour of prisoner voting. Instead they dismissed both prisoner appeals under European law, primarily on the grounds that European (EU ) law “does not incorporate any right to vote paralleling that recognised by the ECHR in its case law…”
Ministers are finding out the hard way that in so many areas of life they have to fight in court to defend what we have been doing for years, or face a court case where they wish to change policy and honour promises they have made to the public. To all those who are scornful of Conservative Ministers, I would point out that they are often seeking to limit the EU’s power and to enlarge our opportunity to make our own domestic democratic decisions. Yesterday was a good top line result, but the detail reveals just how much power this country has surrendered.