Terence Blacker: Behind the times on those behind bars

It is difficult to see how any fair-minded person could argue against this ruling

Share

That's embarrassing. At the very moment when the nation (or some of it) is about to celebrate that emblem of British values, the monarchy, those values are revealed to be illiberal and stupid. While London prepares to become the focus of the sporting world, our Government, supported by our Opposition, makes a bold stand – against human and democratic rights.

At least representatives from Estonia, Armenia and Hungary will feel at home when they fly in for the 2012 Olympics. Britain, like those countries but unlike virtually every other country in Europe, has a universal ban on the right of any prisoner, with some minor exceptions, to vote. Anyone found guilty of an offence serious enough for incarceration becomes, at the will of the state, a non-citizen.

Unsurprisingly, this punishment thrills the wet-lipped punishment freaks of the Conservative Party. What is bewildering, and unutterably depressing, is that the Labour Party is giving the Government its weaselly support. The Lib Dems seem to have adopted their usual position – hiding under the table until the issue goes away.

To find out why Britain's political establishment is so enthusiastic about this issue, one only has to turn to the outraged press coverage of a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, and the rage of the baying mob of the message boards. Supporting the human rights of prisoners, it seems, is a vote-loser.

Yet the ECHR's position, in relation to a case in Italy, is not wildly liberal and, if anything, marks a concession towards the British Government. Each European state, it concludes, has the right to regulate a voting ban as it wishes; only a general disenfranchisement of all prisoners is a breach of their human rights.

Ignoring the sideshows which surround this case – arguments over Europe and sovereignty, the weird panic surrounding the phrase "human rights" – it is difficult to see how any fair-minded person could argue against this ruling. Voting is, indeed, a right which can be withdrawn but, in kinder, more sensible cultures, like those of France or Germany, it is left to judges to decide when sentencing whether that additional punishment is appropriate.

We are becoming more intolerant and vengeful as a society, not less. We already have the highest number of prisoners per capita in Europe, and are now content to remove more of their civil rights than other countries do. Even when the Government conceded in 2010 that it would bow to a European ruling and give the vote to those serving sentences of four years or less, the proposal was voted down, by a massive majority, in the Commons.

Beyond the legal niceties and the European debate lies a simple question of commonsense and morality. It is a matter of shame that so few politicians are brave enough to make that unpopular but obvious point.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Beware of the jovial buffoon who picks fights overseas

Boyd Tonkin
 

My shameful failure to live up to the spirit of Christmas

Howard Jacobson
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all