You have to think that Chris Grayling is playing this pretty well, offering to pass such a complex and important decision over to Parliament.
He appeared in front of the Prisoner Voting Bill committee this morning, and said a number of things he’s said before. But they’re worth repeating:
The European Court of Human Rights is an “unlimited jurisprudence”. It has expanded its remit, lost its focus and has gone far beyond its creators’ intentions. In its first half-century it made 800 judgements – it currently has 100,000 cases on its books.
It recently attempted to force Britain to allow US-style political advertising (it lost by one vote). “It absolutely befuddles me how this is a matter of human rights,” Grayling said.
Parliament has the sovereign right, according to Law Lord Hoffman, to reject any of the Human Rights Court’s decisions. But this will have political consequences. What those consequences are, we don’t know, but they go up to and include leaving the Council of Europe.
The court’s ambitions to become the Supreme Court of Europe needs to be challenged, Grayling said. And as Britain is judged “best in class” by the Council Of Europe, it may be that we have the standing to face them down and make them realise it is they who are wrong, not we.
Good luck with that, as people say.
How might the Bill fare in the Commons? There are options to give the vote to no prisoners at all (the non-compliant option), or to allow those with less than six month sentences, or those with less than four years to vote.
Telling Parliament it is their decision, an exercise of their glorious sovereignty – that is attractive, flattering and interesting.
Would it get through the Commons? The Prime Minister has said in Parliament “prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government.” But will Government Whips carry the Lib Dems?
Would the non-compliant option get through the Lords?
Wouldn’t it be better to keep the issue live, to take into the election in 2015 as a defining line for all parties?
You can feel the grass growing round it.