The short-sighted mainstream press has become very excited over the fact that the European Court of Justice has rejected a French prisoner’s claim over his right to vote. Even the very left-wing Mirror newspaper claims this is a “major boost” for Prime Minister David Cameron on the eve of his Conservative Party conference speech. But it’s not. In fact, the ruling is quite clear that a ban in individual cases can be tolerated, but blanket bans as Mr Cameron supports has been ruled against.
Mr Cameron wanted to embark on a tour across Europe early next year, to set out his stall for renegotiation: and he planned a “no, no, no” moment over the prisoner votes issue – a decade after the European Court of Human Rights described Britain’s ban on prisoner voting as “unlawful”.
Sure enough, the BBC along with the other mainstream media simply don’t get it. They’ve reported: “The UK’s ban on prisoners’ rights to vote looks set to continue after a ruling by the European Court of Justice on a case in France.”
This isn’t right. If anything, the verdict of proportionality, with support for individual bans but not blanket ones, will heap more pressure on Britain’s ban.
Eurosceptics have noted for some time now that Mr Cameron’s renegotiations couldn’t involve fundamental treaty change. In this they are oddly united with the key Eurocrats in Brussels, who have told Mr Cameron as much. In line with this is the fact that the EU would not allow Britain to change its border controls, which are part of the Lisbon Treaty. And this means that Mr Cameron will have to campaign to stay in on a much shakier base: benefits for immigrants, votes for prisoners, and intangibles like the Working Time Directive and regulation.
In fact the Prime Minister made a big to-do about the prisoners’ voting rights at last year’s Tory conference, and he’ll probably still try to claim victory at this one. He said:
Of course, it’s not just the European Union that needs sorting out – it’s the European Court of Human Rights. When that charter was written, in the aftermath of the Second World War, it set out the basic rights we should respect. But since then, interpretations of that charter have led to a whole lot of things that are frankly wrong.
Rulings to stop us deporting suspected terrorists. The suggestion that you’ve got to apply the human rights convention even on the battle-fields of Helmand. And now – they want to give prisoners the vote.
I’m sorry, I just don’t agree.
Our Parliament – the British Parliament – decided they shouldn’t have that right. This is the country that wrote Magna Carta… the country that time and again has stood up for human rights… whether liberating Europe from fascism or leading the charge today against sexual violence in war.
Let me put this very clearly: We do not require instruction on this from judges in Strasbourg.
But we are getting instruction, in contradiction to the vote in our own House of Commons on the issue, and the United Kingdom is treaty-bound to abide by judgements from the European Court of Justice as well as the European Court of Human Rights.
UKIP’s Diane James understands the issue better. She told Breitbart London: “This ruling is a toe in the door for the ECJ to have say over domestic elections, and is setting a dangerous precedent European level interference into the democratic process.
“What we have seen with this ruling is it removes blanket bans on all crimes so therefore opens up the legislation to ‘wiggle room’. This is due to the partial ban statues of this legislation. Prisoners’ rights should be something that lies solely with sovereign states.
“Vote eligibility proportionate to offences committed leaves ‘wiggle room’ as it is all subject to the ECJ ruling on what offences deserve or do not deserve the vote. The lack of coherence and blanket ban will open up the British legal system to challenges from lawyers and prisoners. This will cost the UK taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds as they will have to ultimately foot the bill for legal aid.”
And yes, I wish our media understood the European Union structures better too. This now establishes precedent behind the idea that national parliaments do not get to say who votes in elections. Cue the costly lawsuits…