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 Voting is, indeed, a right which can be withdrawn but, in kinder, more sensible cultures, like those of France or Germany, it is left to judges to decide when sentencing whether that additional punishment is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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine