The committee looking at this controversial voting-rights-for-prisoners Bill had a state visit from one of Europe’s governing elite.
(Deep breath) The Secretary General of the General Directorate of Human Rights and Rule of Law of the Council of Europe came in this morning to offer his opinion and advice about how we should go about this “impasse” between a European institution and our parliament, judiciary and justice system.
I wanted to know how much the fellow earned, what his pension rights were and how many thousands of others like him there were in his monstrous supra-national regiment multiplying work for themselves as only lawyers can.
The Committee, run with some patriotic asperity by Nick Gibb, got something yet more revolutionary.
What happens if the UK passes a law specifically to reject the ruling of the Human Rights Court, and we refuse to allow prisoners to vote?
Mr Jagland’s opening position was: “It would harm human rights in many other European countries.”
Gibb swallowed a number of responses along the lines of, “Why should we suffer because of the medieval jurisprudence in those benighted police states east of the Rhine? We set up the jolly Convention on Human Rights to civilise you lot and now you’re using it against us as if we were the barbarians you used to be!”
(Sentiments may not be actual sentiments of Chairman.)
It is unprecedented for a country to repudiate a ruling of the Court, we heard.
It is not possible to be a part of the Council of Europe without signing up to the Court’s jurisdiction.
If, as Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers asked, Britain wanted to do this lawfully, how could it do so?
And the answer was – by withdrawing from the Convention (and necessarily then, from the Council of Europe).
A prisoner voting Bill such as the committee is considering would result in, Mr Jagland told the Committee, “probably after a while a dissolution of the whole system.”
Now we see how cunning David Davis was all that time ago, getting a debate from the Back Bench Business Committee on prisoners’ voting rights. This is a wedge which could split the whole Rights Convention apart.
Crispin Blunt, a committee member said afterwards,
“The thing about Britain is – we’re so enamoured of the rule of law we won’t just quietly ignore the ruling. We have to do it lawfully, even if it means destroying the whole Convention.”
PS: The Council of Europe with its Committee of Ministers is not to be confused with the European Council, Union, Parliament or Commission. Obviously.