So here we are, embroiled in a mess of Parliament’s own devising. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled that a blanket ban on prisoner voting is incompatible with European law. The UK Parliament has repeatedly flouted that edict. Now, more quickly than expected, the court has announced that it is reopening the 2281 cases involving British prisoners, despite previously saying it would put them on hold. Premature and disrespectful, say some Tory MPs. Maybe. But hell could freeze over before our legislature would willingly hand the vote to a single inmate of Her Majesty’s jails. Leave aside for now the argument that loss of freedom should automatically mean loss of franchise, and look at the practical consequences.
Tens of thousands of prisoners could make claims for compensation, costing the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds. Many of them probably will. But a bigger issue is at stake here than money or individual rights. To refuse to obey the rulings of the European court could lead to international “anarchy”, according to the sensible, knowledgeable and highly principled Attorney General, Dominic Grieve.