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Prisoners’ voting rights: a success story for the enforceability of the ECHR?

By Emi­ly MacKen­zie, NYU School of Law, (LL.M Can­di­date, 2011)

The last week has seen a tense dis­course in polit­i­cal and legal cir­cles in the UK cen­ter­ing on pris­on­ers’ vot­ing rights. This dis­cus­sion in some sense rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of five years of debate about the enforce­abil­i­ty of judg­ments made by the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In March 2004 the ECtHR held unan­i­mous­ly in Hirst v UK that the UK’s blan­ket ban on pris­on­ers vot­ing vio­lat­ed Arti­cle 3 Pro­to­col 1 of the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Human Rights (ECHR). Despite the rejec­tion of the UK’s appeal to the Grand Cham­ber, and the oblig­a­tion under Arti­cle 46 ECHR to enforce Stras­bourg judg­ments, the gov­ern­ment has to date failed to enact legal reform to imple­ment this deci­sion. Whilst there has been an ongo­ing con­sul­ta­tion, it is not over­ly cyn­i­cal to describe the process as mere­ly ‘going through the motions.’ The unex­plained delays, refusal to enter­tain the option of allow­ing all pris­on­ers to vote, and the government’s con­sis­tent expres­sion of its dis­agree­ment with the rul­ing all attest to this con­clu­sion.

Repeat­ed crit­i­cisms by the Coun­cil of Europe came to a head when the gov­ern­ment failed to act on any of the pro­pos­als in time to allow pris­on­ers to vote in the June 2010 elec­tion.  Last week, how­ev­er, UK news­pa­pers report­ed that the new coali­tion gov­ern­ment is final­ly going to imple­ment the judg­ment. (See cov­er­age by The Guardian here.)  The exact pro­gram and timescale of reform remain unclear, but it seems to be gen­er­al­ly accept­ed that a change is in the off­ing. The gov­ern­men­tal atti­tude remains, how­ev­er, that such reform is some­thing imposed on the UK by Europe, that it is not some­thing that the gov­ern­ment wants, and that they will apply it as restric­tive­ly as pos­si­ble. In light of this con­tin­ued ret­i­cence, one may ask: why after five years of stalling is the gov­ern­ment final­ly giv­ing in?

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Book Review: Stacy’s Human Rights for the 21st Century

In the lat­est install­ment of book reviews, Nali­ni Gup­ta lauds Human Rights for the 21st Cen­tu­ry, by Helen M. Sta­cy for pro­vid­ing a com­pre­hen­sive analy­sis of human rights work. How­ev­er, Gup­ta notes that Sta­cy risks over­sim­pli­fy­ing the issues in her attempt to divide major cri­tiques of the inter­na­tion­al human rights sys­tem into three cat­e­gories: sov­er­eign­ty, civ­il soci­ety, and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

By Nali­ni Gup­ta

In Human Rights for the 21st Cen­tu­ry, Helen Sta­cy address­es the major cri­tiques of the inter­na­tion­al human rights frame­work, offer­ing sug­ges­tions on how to fill gaps in the cur­rent sys­tem in order to strength­en the frame­work. Sta­cy orga­nizes the major cri­tiques of the inter­na­tion­al human rights sys­tem into three cat­e­gories: sov­er­eign­ty, civ­il soci­ety, and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. Respond­ing to each of these cri­tiques, she argues that the law and the courts must con­tin­ue to play a crit­i­cal role in the human rights sys­tem, but their role must be adjust­ed to adapt to the chal­lenges posed by the cur­rent world order. Stacy’s book is a wor­thy read, pro­vid­ing a com­pre­hen­sive analy­sis of the cur­rent chal­lenges of the cur­rent human rights frame­work and offer­ing inter­est­ing and prac­ti­cal pro­pos­als aimed at improv­ing the present sys­tem.

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