Britain should leave European Court of Human Rights to stop it 'unravelling' over votes for prisoners, warns human rights commissioner

  • Niels Muižnieks, Europe's most senior human rights official, warned MPs
  • He sent a letter to the committee looking at the prisoners voting bill
  • He said Britain must accept the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, or leave the body altogether

By Tamara Cohen

|

Britain should leave the European human rights system if it will not repeal the ban on prisoners’ voting, its most senior official has declared.

By continuing to defy the ruling allowing prisoners to vote, Niels Muižnieks, human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, said the whole system might ‘unravel.’

His strong letter to Nick Gibb MP, who chairs the parliamentary committee looking at the draft prisoners voting bill, is likely to escalate the simmering row with Strasbourg over the issue.

Warning: Europe's most senior human rights official said that the European Court of Human Rights, pictured, must be obeyed

Warning: Europe's most senior human rights official said that the European Court of Human Rights, pictured, must be obeyed

He wrote: ‘If the UK, a founding member of the Council of Europe and one which has lost relatively few cases at the Court, decides to ‘cherry pick’ and selectively implement judgments, other states will invariably follow suit and the system will unravel very quickly.

‘Thus, my message is clear: the Court's judgments have to be executed and the automatic and indiscriminate ban on voting rights for prisoners should be repealed. If the court system is to continue to provide protection, there is no alternative to this for member states, other than leaving the system itself.’

The Council of Europe which has 47 members, operates the controversial European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 2005 that banning all prisoners from voting was unlawful.

 

But ministers have resisted changing the law with MPs voting by an overwhelming majority two years ago to maintain the status quo.

David Cameron said in November 2010: ‘It makes me physically ill to even contemplate having to give the vote to anyone in prison’.

And last year he insisted: ‘No one should be under any doubt – prisoners are not getting the vote under this government.’

Last night Tory MP Dominic Raab said: ‘Mr Muiznieks is desperate to defend the international gravy train he has made a living out of.

'I suspect the bleatings of a career European quangocrat will only stiffen the spine of MPs who want to defend British democracy, not European bureaucracy.’

Defiant: Tory MP Dominic Raab said the warning would 'stiffen the spine' of MPs who want to resist Europe's power over them

Defiant: Tory MP Dominic Raab said the warning would 'stiffen the spine' of MPs who want to resist Europe's power over them

A ruling by the UK Supreme Court this week dismissed an appeal by two murderers who claimed it was a breach of both the Human Rights Act and EU law to ban them from voting.

But, in a significant blow to David Cameron, the judges failed to rule that the UK’s existing blanket ban on prisoners taking part in elections is lawful.

The verdict will thus intensify the pressure on ministers to grant at least some convicts the vote – or risk handing out millions in compensation for breaching their ‘rights’.

Mr Muižnieks comments were published in evidence to the joint Commons and Lords parliamentary committee considering the prisoner votes, which published a draft bill last year.

The bill sets out three options: a ban for prisoners sentenced to four years or more, a ban for prisoners sentenced to more than six months, or continuing to defy Strasbourg.

Mr Muižnieks' letter adds: ‘A withdrawal from the ECHR would cast doubt on the UK's commitment to UN values and acceptance of UN mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review and treaty monitoring bodies.

'The UK's voice with regard to human rights issues in other countries would clearly be less credible.’

Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Albania are all members of the Council of Europe. The only European nation that refuses to join is Belarus, whose human rights record has been widely criticised.

At the Tory Party conference last month, Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling suggested a future Tory government could leave the Strasbourg court.

Britain has lost 202 cases at the European Court of Human Rights since 1998. The people who brought the cases, who included criminals, received £1.7million in compensation.

The total bill, including legal costs, is around £4.4million.

The comments below have not been moderated.

LEAVE!

0
0
Click to rate

The ECHR has been high-jacked and abused by academics like Mr Mui¿nieks. It is interfering above and beyond what Britain ever intended the Convention to be and is now acting in a governmental way. Articles which are not Absolute Rights are being treated as such. However, since leaving the ECHR would mean leaving The EU, I agree with the gentleman on one of his judgements.

1
1
Click to rate

Has anyone got any good stories about the ECHR? I suppose it was probably cobbled together for fairly sincere reasons but does it do anything ethical or moral that UK law didn't already do? In an ironic twist, the prisoners who claim the right to vote under the HRA are the very people that couldn't give a stuff about anyone else's human rights.

0
2
Click to rate

So the most compelling reason to leave the UCHR is votes for some 80,000 prisoners? I can think of hundreds more compelling reasons, but hey, lets pick on prisoners again shall we.

6
1
Click to rate

Neither - All that's needed is to sack every Human Rights Commissioner and employ people with common sense. That applies to Heath N Safety too.

1
10
Click to rate

FU EU!

2
10
Click to rate

yes please, i dont think anyone will be too sad to go, ruled by an unelected court with appalling human rights history themselves in some countries, clean up your own act first before preaching to us

3
11
Click to rate

We will only exit the E.U. if the government really want to. Under the leadership of closet Socialist Cameron that is never going to happen, nor is it at all possible under a Labour government who forced it upon us in the first place. So what is the alternative? It can only be a vote for UKIP when the time comes - our ONLY hope!

2
10
Click to rate

LEAVE NOW. It is undemocratic and run by a bunch of idiots who are unemployable in real life.

1
18
Click to rate

Undemocratic? We obviously have very different interpretations of the word 'democracy'. The judges are appointed by the democratically elected heads of government for each member state. That then leads me on the 736 democratically elected Members of the European Parliament.

1
0
Click to rate

Not so easy to leave when your government does not reflect the wishes of it's people.

2
19
Click to rate

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

By posting your comment you agree to our house rules.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now