And so, the prisoner votes saga carries on with increasing coverage in the media and blogosphere today.
There is the expected knee jerk reaction – the example being from a propsective candidate seeking to be elected as a legislator, apparently oblivious to concepts such as the rule of law, and international obligations, the notion that individual rights can be exercised against the organs of the state by recourse to courts – and cannot see that a blanket ban on prisoner voting is potentially problematic because it treats all (from those convicted of TV licence evasion and jailed for non-payment of a fine, to convicted murderers) equally.
There is the expected Scottish newspaper coverage – where even our own quality newspapers seem oblivious to appellate decisions in our courts which have determined the issue. And accordingly don’t inform readers as they should.
This morning The Guardian reported that two prisoners are planning to take the UK government to court if they are not granted the right to vote, and they intend to claim compensation if they are not granted the right. I imagine such a case would have a good chance of success given that the Scottish courts gave the nod to the government four years ago that something had to be done about the Holyrood franchise, and the failure to do anything in the four years since the Smith v Scott decision (referred to in my post here) suggests an aggravation in relation to the potential quantification of compensation at Strasbourg. It appears that at least one senior Scottish advocate shares that view.
Anyhow, the purpose of writing tonight is to draw attention to two very different Justice spokesmen/ministers.
The BBC reported today that Lord Chancellor and UK justice minister Ken Clarke has pointed out that international obligations and the rule of law actually mean something. He is reported to have said, “ministers had to obey the law” (an uncontroversial notion surely) and that “I shall ask anybody who thinks they are going to drive to that particular point how they are going to explain to their constituents that, at a time like this, we’re spending money on compensating prisoners for a right that they probably wouldn’t bother to exercise if we gave it to them.”
(True Clarke, also appears oblivious of the Smith v Scott decision and suggests that the courts can decide if Scottish elections need to be covered – [editorial note to Ken Clarke: They already have decided four years ago, and they do] – but his general attitude indicates a respect for the law fitting in a justice minister)
This can be contrasted with the approach of Labour spokesman, Richard Baker (not the former BBC newsreader, but the callow youth charged with the justice portfolio in the Scottish labour party). Baker said, “It has been the view of successive governments in the UK and countries around the world that those who commit crimes so serious they warrant a period of imprisonment should forfeit the right to vote while they are imprisoned.” No word of the rule of law? No word of legal obligations? No word about respecting court decisions? Comment appears superfluous.