Melanchthon: The coming constitutional crisis on votes for prisoners
So let’s see. The government grants a free vote on votes for prisoners (no choice, really). The measure goes down 500 votes against, 80 for. We then have five thousand prisoners complain that their human rights have been violated, and they sue for compensation. The courts rule in their favour at – what shall we say? - £10,000 each including costs? So that’s £50m.
The government then has to decide whether to pay. But in Parliament MPs are already putting down motions forbidding the government from paying any such compensation. The current motion may not get any air time, but someone will soon work out how to deliver such a motion properly, and it will surely pass with a huge majority, since, when families are struggling to pay increased taxes and with their benefits being cut, who is seriously going to vote in favour of paying out tens of millions in pounds to prisoners? So then the courts instruct the government to pay compensation, and Parliament forbids it.
A constitutional crisis, clearly.
Is there a way out? Well, the Council of Europe has already condemned the government for taking more than five years to comply with the 2005 judgement involving John Hirst, giving the government six months to comply. So we can’t just wait and hope it goes away. The British judges will be itching to rule against the government anyway. Surely the only ways forward are to comply or to change Britain’s relationship to the European Court of Human Rights and to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Suppose we could get that latter option past Nick Clegg. We’d then have to get it past the European Council. But complying with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights is an obligation of the Lisbon Treaty for membership of the Council of Europe, and hence of the EU. I suppose we could just not comply and dare the Council of Europe to kick us out – but then how would we prevent the UK judges from ruling government officials guilty of malfeasance for failing to comply with obligations under a ratified Treaty? The only way to avoid that would appear to renegotiate the Treaty. But could we get that past Nick Clegg?