Many commentators have welcomed the outcome of the House of Commons debate on 11 February 2011 about votes for prisoners. Conservative MP Simon Reevell, who voted for the successful motion, made an interesting point in defence of the European Court of Human Rights, without which much-needed improvements to the UK's court martial system would not have taken place.
The House agreed, by an overwhelming majority with Ministers abstaining, to note the European Court of Human Rights' judgement in the Hirst "votes for prisoners" case, to note the UK's treaty obligations, but that legislative decisions of this nature should be a matter for democratically-elected lawmakers; and that it supported the current situation in which no prisoner is able to vote except those imprisoned for contempt, default or on remand.
Simon Reevell MP (Conservative, Dewsbury) argued in the debate that:
Cases such as the Hirst ruling catch the eye, but so do decisions of the UK courts, and there have been too many instances where the ECHR jurisdiction has been necessary. A trip to Sandhurst and the view of the officer cadets on the subject of prisoners' votes was mentioned. We used to have a system of justice that basically followed the principle of military justice of "March in the guilty man." We had that system until a man called Findlay, a member of the armed forces, having been turned down by every court in the United Kingdom, went to Strasbourg and won his case. As a result of that, the military justice system was completely overhauled and the previous Government brought in the Armed Forces Act 2006, which, just a few weeks ago, we all ratified so that it continues. Were it not for the ECHR, that system simply would not have changed.
I do not like the Hirst ruling, but I like less the fact that it was ignored for more than five years. On balance, I like even less the idea of picking and choosing when it comes to this nation's legal obligations.
- BBC 10 Feb 2011: MPs reject prisoner votes plan
- House of Commons debates, 10th Feb 2011, Voting by Prisoners
- Law report (Independent, 04 Mar 1997): Soldier's trial by court martial was unfair
BAFF would not hesitate to deploy human rights arguments under UK law, where appropriate, in the interests of our members in the armed forces.
BAFF remains at the forefront of the Service voting campaign to encourage and make it easier for armed forces personnel and their partners to register to vote, and then exercise their own choice in any elections and referendums.