Thursday, October 06, 2005

European Court of Human Rights: Prisoners Can Vote

From the Times (London), a debate on the fact that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that prisoners can vote in national elections.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that prisoners in the UK should have the right to vote. Judges said that the Convention on Human Rights, to which Britain is a signatory, guarantees the “right to free elections”, and that applies equally to prisoners.
For some background on the case, check the Guardian.
Mr Hirst, 53, originally took his case to the high court in London in 2001 challenging the UK’s Representation of the People Act 1983 which bans convicts from voting in local or general elections. The court rejected his claim that the act was incompatible with the European convention on human rights.

But when his lawyers appealed against that ruling at the European court of human rights last year the judges there ruled that denying a prisoner a vote was in breach of the “right to free elections” spelt out in the convention.
In this case “free elections,” which never before were thought to mean that prisoners can vote, all of a sudden have a radically new and different meaning.

This sort of bald judicial activism will of course be familiar to Americans who have seen school prayer outlawed, abortion legalized and (only in Massachusetts so far) gay marriage forced on the political system. Indeed, the U.S. pioneered judicial activism. Until recently in Europe elected legislatures dominated policy-making.

But this kind of thing is clearly congenial to the less populist and egalitarian political systems of Europe, and it has prospered there.

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