Independent View: votes for prisoners

At the last general election, I voted for the first time, and gave it to Diana Johnson Labour MP for Hull North. When it came to the local election I voted for the Lib Dem candidate. Notwithstanding Dizzy Thinks posting this on the 1st of April, I just had to have a go at it: “For anyone confused about how they might vote at the General Election, Vote Match 2010 has now been launched. It’s pretty straight forward multiple choice survey that will match what you think against what the political parties have told Vote Match they think”. My score came out 75% in support of the Lib Dems, 52% Labour party, and 36% Conservative party. Result: “Best Match Liberal Democrats”.

When I first heard about the idea of having televised debates I was naturally angry. One of my arguments to the European Court of Human Rights in Hirst v UK (No2) was that Parliament had not debated the issue of extending the franchise to convicted prisoners. That was way back in 2004. In spite of the UK being under an obligation to abide by the Convention and Court decision, Parliament dissolved without debating the issue. And yet, Alan Johnson rushed through legislation banning methedrone at the last minute! At least the televised debate made history of the notion that a vote for the Lib Dems would be pointless, because now it is a 3 horse race.

It all hangs on a hung Parliament. There may even be a second general election. Then, there is the 1st June 2010 Council of Ministers meeting when the legality of the general election under international law will be the subject of discussion. In March, the Council of Europe warned the government that convicted prisoners must get the vote before the general election, or else. There is a danger that the UK will be declared a Rogue State. Comparisons are already being drawn between the sanctions imposed upon Belarus, and the failure to sanction the UK in a like manner. The other 46 Member States are demanding that the UK plays by the rules or leaves the Council of Europe. Also, since the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty the UK is in danger of being kicked out of the European Union.

The Lib Dem peer Lord Lester of Herne Hill has long been a champion of voting rights for convicted prisoners. Isn’t it about time that the rest of the Lib Dems properly address this issue? This issue will be the real test of whether Nick Clegg is getting away from old style politics. Bearing in mind that the issues at stake are Democracy, Rule of law, and Human rights. How can the Lib Dems not be in support of these 3 basic principles which form the European Convention? The eyes of 800 millions European citizens are watching this country and the general election race. Nick Clegg needs to put distance between the Lib Dems on the one hand and Labour and Tory on the other. He will not do this by burying his head in the sand.

John Hirst is the Legal, Media and Political adviser to the Association of Prisoners, representing 83,000 members. A committed prison reformer who went from law breaker to law-maker whilst in custody, and is the most prolific prisoner litigant in penal history. He won prisoners the right of access to speak to the media, and to set up a trade union, and has won two cases at the European Court of Human Rights. The last being the Prisoners Votes Case. He says, “Having served time under both the Conservatives and Labour, it is time to give the Lib Dems a fair crack at the whip.”

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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This entry was posted in The Independent View.


  • Andrew Suffield 20th Apr '10 - 7:59pm

    Frankly, the issue has just never come up in the right places before. It needs to be on the agenda at the next conference.

  • Paul Griffiths 20th Apr '10 - 8:09pm

    It’s already been on the agenda, but I’d have to look up the outcome.

  • Hey, I’ve got a wonderful idea: let’s wait until the Lib Dems are leading in the polls just a few weeks out from a general election and then publish an article that couldn’t scream ‘loony-liberals-are-soft-on-crime’ any more clearly if you’d let the Daily Mail write it for you.

    Absolutely astounding.

  • Pathetic thread, prefering to abuse john hirst rather than deal with any of the legal and political issues. Shame on all of you for being so petty and short sighted.

  • @Jock, sorry for the broad brush comment. I just get bored with people who lack the capacity for abstract thought and opt for the personal attack instead.

  • @alec, no, you are personalising a politico-legal argument. I assume you have the same problem with the blogging murderer, prisonerben? He admits guilt, expresses remorse and is three times over his tariff. I accept an argument on its merits, not judge it by the character of its author. You should try it.

  • @alec, still missing the point… The important thing is the argument, not the author. Ah well. Goodnight all.

  • Paul Moloney 26th Apr '10 - 10:01am

    John, am wondering if you’re the same John Hirst who runs the justice for Justice for Madeleine blog:


  • Paul Moloney 26th Apr '10 - 11:24am

    John, I’m wondering what the purpose of your campaign against the McCanns, based on the flimsiest of evidence is. If it based on empathy for Madeline? Or just simply that you feel its unfair they got away with killing and you didn’t?


  • Paul Moloney 26th Apr '10 - 5:14pm

    “Why is nobody from the Lib Dem hierarchy responding to this issue?”

    I imagine that hitching their wagon to this horse at a point when they might manage an electoral breakthrough might not be the smartest move.


  • @alec, why do you insist on contaminating this thread with swipes at john? This is about the votes issue, you can dig john out to your hearts content elsewhere. You are degrading the level of the debate and that you fail to appreciate that is quite sad.

  • In my view, I am entitled to judge because I have been judged

    That might be ‘your view’, but the former does not follow from the latter.

  • It does follow if you apply logic.

    Let’s see where applying this ‘logic’ gets us, shall we?

    I am entitled to imprison, because I have been imprisoned.
    I am entitled to rob, because I have been robbed.

    And so on.

    You’re not quite as clever as you think you are, are you John?

  • So which of these statements – of the same formal structure – is logical, and which is illogical?

    A) I am entitled to judge because I have been judged
    B) I am entitled to imprison because I have been imprisoned

    Would it help if I point out that you seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that whatever you say is by definition logical? Sadly I don’t think it will.

    He who has not sinned cast the first stone. He who has sinned and repented is now entitled to judge the conduct of others.

    So he who has not sinned can judge.

    And he who has sinned can also judge.

    Glad we’ve cleared that up. But given that you haven’t repented, that would seem to rule you out of the judging business, would it not?

    You’re still not getting any better at this, are you?

  • No, that was him.

  • I’m all for votes for prisoners but John Hirst ruined his arguments when he slagged of my beloved Andew Neil’s haircut

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