Monday, 8 February 2010

Who are they to talk about voting rights?

The week is off to a flying start with the latest EU news being that prisoners must be given the right to vote or our spring election is "illegal". The UK is one of the only countries in the EU that denies prisoners the right to vote - a fact that may surprise many Brits.

Jack Straw is said to be considering allowing anyone sentenced to less than four years the right to cast a ballot. This would give the vote to 28,000 prisoners. I'm sure the Tories will make some comment about Labour desperately trawling the depths for extra votes...

Actually the latest activity is 5 years overdue, according to the European Court of Human Rights who ruled that the ban on prisoners voting was unlawful in 2005.

The ruling was a result of former prisoner John Hirst, who was jailed for manslaughter after killing his landlady with an axe, challenged the ban in Europe.

I have pasted below an excerpt from an article published in the Guardian by John "Ben" Dunn, the current secretary for the Association of Prisoners. His predecessor was Hirst.

Talking about the EU, he says "we signed an international treaty that was intended to give European citizens fundamental rights with which no government could interfere. For the first time, British people had a basis on which they could stand and say no to the government.

And much to our surprise, dozens of legal challenges based on these new rights revealed that our comfortable view of how free and liberal our society was to be a soporific myth. Britain has one of the worst records before the European court of human rights. And that disturbs us, for we are not used to having our liberality questioned. Instead of using these realities to wonder about the nature of our political system and the power of government we prefer to complain about trivia – foreign judges, for instance. Rather than embracing our new rights we handle them as if they are an unexploded grenade."

Surrounding the debate on prisoners and voting is this term "Human Rights". It carries grave overtones of mitigating tyranny and circumventing genocide and has it's own international court. Surely if they say we are wrong, we are, aren't we?

The European Court of Human Rights is a thorn in the side of many.The fact that so-called rights, a term banded around far too much that it has become lost entirely in its interpretation, can be doled out or determined by some higher European body is in itself ludicrous.

The argument that we all have rights is regressive ad nauseum. Philosophers for centuries have debated the concept of "Free Will" and Existentialism and if they couldn't define what exactly consitutes rights, why can a court in Europe?

The side that holds the view that by choosing to live outside the law you forfeit your societal rights have taken a beating. Apparently they completely misinterpret the whole point of human rights. If somebody from the Human Rights camp wants to step forward and list what they constitute I'm sure we'd listen, but we might reply "who gave YOU the right to decide?"

Anyway, the irony is that this is coming out of Europe again. That very political body that we were not given a Referendum on...

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