Thursday, January 20, 2011
The Never-ending Prisoners Votes Argument
There are moments when that ember of anger permanently embedded in my soul flares up. The Prisoners Vote issue is almost guaranteed to have me foaming at the mouth. The moronic, childish and plain ignorant arguments that some of our leaders spout makes me wish that stupidity was made a crime - and they would get the maximum sentence.
The reasoning on this issue seems pretty straightforward. Do we accept that there are limits on the power of the State to oppress its own people? I'm going to assume I can carry you on that, it's hardly a revolutionary concept.
It's an idea the British State liked so much that our lawyers drafted an international Convention that set out the limits on Government power - the European Convention for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. We wrote it, we signed up to it, we supply part of the funding and one of the Judges on the Court. We have been happy to support this mechanism in holding other nations to account for the way it treats its citizens. This has held for two generations.
The proposition remains simple that all individuals retain certain fundamental rights. It doesn't matter how unpopular these people are, their politics, their actions, their ethnicity, none of these matter. There is a limit - that we agreed - to how much the State can oppress individuals. The clue is in the title -"fundamental freedoms". Not "optional", or "only for nice people that we'd invite round for tea". All people. That’s what we signed up to 60 years ago.
There is a legitimate debate about what constitutes "rights" and whether they are subjective or flow from some Natural Law. These debates ebb and flow, probably never to be settled. Most importantly, though, we wrote and signed up to a set of principles that laid out the specifics of what constitute "rights". It's okay to debate the merits, but in the meantime we signed a legal deal.
And the British State agreed that participation in democratic elections was a "fundamental right". There's no point in pig-ignorant xenophobic MP's bitching about foreign courts and foreign judges. We created the structure and agreed to abide by its judgements. Barely concealed racist ranting sixty years after the fact shouldn't obscure that detail.
Now, the Court has held, twice, that British prisoners are unreasonably being denied our right to participate in free elections. And the body politic is squealing like a pig farm, orchestrated by the bandmasters that pass themselves off as tabloid editors.
I pore over every word I can written by opponents of the Prisoner Vote. And I have yet to find one coherent argument. Not one. Some have a surface attraction, but fall apart under scrutiny. Some are just the meanderings of thick-as-shit MP's. Most of the arguments boil down to a simple proposition - "I hate criminal scum".
There is vast irony in this. The Convention on Human Rights was created to protect groups from being screwed over by their government on the basis of prejudice. And now prejudice is the only argument that is being deployed. This is illustrated by Philip Davies MP calling us, "vile creatures". This is what this debate is reduced to. And in fairness, I hope no one now objects to my suggesting that Philip Davies is a joke of a legislator, a man who is tasked with helping guide the fate of a nation and yet whose public utterances on prisons - there are many - reveal that he is labouring under a burden of ignorance that is so profound that it must qualify him for help under the Disability Discrimination Act. On the prison landings we would dismiss him with the term "muppet".
Where are we so far? We wrote a set of human rights, we signed it, we agreed to abide by the Court who judges it. And now it has presented politicians with an unpopular judgement, every politico with a line to the Daily Mail is whining like a baby.
Some of the arguments I've heard against the prisoner vote are positively childlike. One is that we don't deserve human rights as we broke the human rights of our victims. As well as being dubious logic, this argument highlights a complete ignorance of human rights. Human rights regulate relations between the individual and the State, not between individuals. A policeman who, on duty as a State servant, beats me to death breaches my right to life (as well as being murder). That same copper, off duty as a private individual, would not be breaching my human right to life if he killed me. People who peddle this argument should be made to sit in a corner to devour a decent legal textbook before being allowed to join in the grown-up's conversation.
It is also claimed that we prisoners have "waged war on society" and so deserve none of the rights of that society. Really? Really?? Because I thought I killed my friend, not engaging in some Fawksian political act. Let such silly hyperbole rest in peace, as quiet as the neurons in Philip Davies' brain.
And then there's the argument that rests on a slip of the tongue, the sly substitution of the word "liberties" for the word "liberty". It is claimed that when we are sent to prison we lose all of our "liberties". Alas, quite which law, which statute, which legal doctrine underpins this mad claim is never produced. When we are sent to prison we lose our "liberty". That is, our physical freedom. To try to fool people by saying this encompasses all possible "liberties" is tripe. It plays well with the idiotcracy, but it's tripe nevertheless.
This "liberties" argument is the basis of the assertion that the ability to vote isn't a "right" at all, it is a liberty granted by the State, a sweet that the rulers throw to the plebs at their whim. So, if prisoners have no liberties, we have no vote. QED!
Many people would argue - though not if their vote were in peril! - that the franchise is indeed a liberty, a favour, not a "right". It is fortunate that this is not a subjective debate, it is a matter of law. The ability to vote is a fundamental right. It's in the Convention that we wrote and signed up to. People may say they don't want it to be a right, that it shouldn't be a right, but as a matter of straightforward unassailable fact - it is a right. So, even if we did lose all of our "liberties" on being imprisoned, we retain our fundamental rights - including the ability to vote.
The part of the current debate that really makes me angry is the call by some politicians and commentators that Britain should tell the Court of Human rights to sling it, to just ignore their judgement on the Prisoners Vote.
Take a pause here. Just consider what is being said. That we should ignore the judgement of a Court, because even though we set it up and wrote its principles, we don't like one of its judgements.
I'm sure some of my prisoner colleagues could be persuaded to follow that principle - let's just ignore laws we find inconvenient or distasteful. The prohibition on murder, for instance. Or that pesky court that has a view that we shouldn't break into MP's homes and kill them in their beds. I wonder if the likes of Philip Davies MP have a view on this? Put in these personal terms, do they really want to advocate people only obeying laws and courts they find personally appealing?
How dare anyone in a public office make a suggestion that Courts and laws should be ignored, when they do so in the cause of further denying prisoners their due rights.
We ignored the courts and the laws and you punish us for it. Don't you fucking dare now stand up and argue that you should have the right to treat the law with the same contempt and not face any consequences.
Labels: prisoner vote