Last night, the House of Commons voted by 234 to 22 to reject a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) concerning the right of prisoners to vote in a general election. The Strasbourg Court had ruled that Britain is unlawfully preventing prisoners from voting.
The ECHR has been delivering its rulings since 1953, but the last few years have seen a sea-change in its perception as a force for good. EU member states have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the way the ECHR oversteps national boundaries and they’re starting to balk at the international body’s intrusion into their internal affairs.
As individual applications may be lodged by any person or group of individuals, it’s hardly surprising that the Court has been a victim of its own success. Over 50,000 new applications are lodged every year. But it’s the scope of the Court’s jurisdiction that is causing all the aggravation.
As the British parliament prepares to butt heads with the Strasbourg judges, this may just be the opportune moment for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to re-examine the terms of reference pertaining to the ECHR. The right of individual states to exercise judicial sovereignty should be weighed against the overarching principles protected by the international Court. That balance could be achieved if the ECHR were to confine its judgements to issues relating to fundamental human rights such as freedom from hunger and want, neglect and abuse.
Laws such as giving prisoners the right to vote are relatively trivial. They do not violate what most people would consider to be fundamental human rights. They should therefore be considered beyond the remit of the Strasbourg Court.