Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Of Prisoners and the ECHR

CLARIFICATION: This post is about a decision by the ECHR and its very poor coverage in the press. In preparing it I watched a couple of interviews with John Hirst in which he came across as a thoroughly unpleasant type, otherwise he would not even have got a mention here. Having a love of the truth, and not being entirely stupid, I checked the facts carefully; he was indeed convicted of manslaughter, not murder, as I made perfectly clear in the post. His complaint is, therefore, groundless. I also linked to his own blog, and to another article in which he talks about his crime, so that his own views, and not just mine, are available to those who may read the post. I regularly do this with people I criticise. The links are still there below, and I now add another, which, while not in his own voice, seems to provide background to his mental state.

However, I simply do not have the time to go to England and argue the toss about the meaning in common use of a term that has a powerful legal connotation with a judge who is unlikely to be sympathetic to such an argument. Also, while I haven't the least concern for the sensitivities of John Hirst, he is not important to the matter I was discussing. I have therefore removed the subtitle of the post, changed one word in the second paragraph of the first question, and edited question 4 very slightly.

I did not, and do not, accuse John Hirst of murder. I stated quite clearly that he was convicted of manslaughter. I then make a point about the meaning of the word murderer in general use, a point irrelevant to the subject of the post, but nevertheless a true one. Below is the original post, with the changes described above:

Media Studies 101- Mid-term exam


Compare and contrast:
Up next- Dull but worthy human rights lawyer explains why section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, Articles 10 and 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, are relevant to (Application no. 74025/01) CASE OF HIRST v. THE UNITED KINGDOM (No. 2) or...
Up next- Unrepentant axe-killer bangs on arrogantly and  inarticulately about how he’s got more rights than you and we all get to jump up and down frothing at the mouth.
Journalist with iffy syrup follows the finest of journalistic traditions and chooses the second option above. As a result he gets good viewing figures but we learn nothing about the case.
Should the government-
a)      arbitrarily ignore a decision based on a process to which it has been legally committed for 60 years, because said decision is unpopular or morally wrong
b)      question through the procedures of that court the grounds for the decision, which may well confuse human rights with civil rights, or for some other motive
c)      withdraw the UK from its commitment to the legal process and the treaties which set it up, so it is no longer bound by such decisions
d)     obey the order of the court, in accordance with the rule of law?

John Hirst  beat an old woman to death with an axe because she got on his nerves. This appears to have been an impulse but he remained in the house watching her die rather than help her (this was clearly established at the trial). Legally speaking, he was convicted of manslaughter. But murder is not just a legal term. As a term in common use it is frequently used to describe other situations in which one person kills, or is responsible for the death of, another, as well as in relatively trivial matters such as the eating of meat, the holding of bullfights or the practice of abortion. Murder as a word and a concept is ours to use and define, it does not belong exclusively to the courts.

Comments- The decision does not give prisoners the right to vote (something which doesn’t bother me very much, anyway). It enjoins the government to clarify how the removal of the franchise is applied in each case. Parliament can decide to deny the vote to prisoners serving a sentence longer than some lower bound, it could set out crimes which carry the loss of the franchise as an integral part of the punishment, it could instruct judges to pronounce on the retention or loss of the vote when sentencing a particular individual. There are many possibilities, some indistinguishable from the present state. I think we can be sure that, however Parliament clarifies the situation, Hirst will be in a group that is excluded. He can’t vote at the moment, by the way, because he hasn’t actually served his sentence, he is only out on licence.

The decision, btw, was made by the ECHR, which forms part of the network of the Council of Europe. It's nothing to do with the EU, and is in some ways not entirely useless. If it were the EU looking at the matter, the commission would simply have decreed that prisoners be allowed to vote. They don't go in for democracy, sovreignty, representation, the rule of law or legal process. (Discuss)


jailhouselawyer said...

I am putting you on notice to remove the libel about me which as you know is not true because I was convicted of manslaughter. A fasilure to do so will see you join the growing queue of those I am also suing for libel.

CIngram said...

Don't hold your breath.

CIngram said...

I do indeed know that you were convicted of manslaughter, as I make perfectly clear in the post. On reflection, however, I can't be bothered to argue, as I have a living to learn and a life to lead. The post was not about you, and I am not remotely concerned with your sensitivity to the use of language, but I have amended it to better reflect your importance.

jailhouselawyer said...

Thank you for having the good sense to amend your post.