Human Rights for Life-Prisoners

The European Court of Human Rights recently concluded that life-long sentences breach Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Politicians and public alike are getting angry in droves over a combination of ignorance of the details of the decision and disregard for basic concepts of Ethics, like Human Rights. Well, the loud ones are. The public discussion seems to have a strong (and generic) anti-europe vibe, being presented as another example of Europe overruling our sovereignty.

An otherwise sober radio discussion show (that I listen to on the way back from work) seemed to really want to avoid the simple facts of the situation in favour of raging over imagined European tyranny. The Prime Minister strongly disagrees with this ruling, and others. Some politician was invited on the show to explain how, somehow, the convention is out of date. Apparently serious crimes suddenly popped into existence some time after the war. When someone else pointed out that this ruling only talks about the possibility of freedom, she explained that that didn’t matter and then told us what “the fact of the matter” was. Chris Grayling apparently said that the authors of the Convention would be “turning in their graves.”

One argument against the ruling is that it represents Europe overruling our parliamentary / legal system. Our elected representatives decided, for some reason, for while, to give people full-life sentences [1]. This ruling overrules that, which is bad. This is a very selective argument. It overlooks how the ECoHR came into existence, pretending that it was just imposed on us by aliens or something. The ruling was that some of the stuff our elected officials decided to abide by contradicts some of the other more fundamental stuff our elected officials decided to abide by. This argument also overlooks the point that parliament can be overruled by judges, which is a very very good thing. The coverage of the activities of Europe never mentions examples of its courts ruling in our favour. Like when they ruled that MasterCard should remove some of their hidden fees. Or when they ruled to protect the rights of cares. Or when they ruled that passengers suffering extended delays are entitled to compensation. Or ruling that people should be allowed to sell second hand games. Or when they ruled that some attempts to control software piracy amount to a breach of human rights. Or when they ruled in favour of that air steward who was disciplined for wearing a crucifix. Or when they took action against countries that refused to honour EHIC medical card conventions [2]. Or the countless rulings over decades in favour of basic rights involving movement, discrimination, freedom of expression, freedom of commerce etc.

All this hysteria over a decision to grant inmates the possibility of release. That we should consider their release. That we should every, maybe, 25 years have a hearing. Obviously many politicians are either to stupid or, more likely, intentionally misrepresenting the ruling as granting the certainty of release.

The measure of someone’s ethical views is the extent to which they abide by them when it’s least convenient.

[1] Note that in this argument democracy means someone we elected decides to do something.

[2] This is interesting because British holiday makers not being able to use their EHIC cards was all over the news in a “rip-off Britain” style campaign. This story seemed to drop dead, literally, as soon as the EU started to uphold complaints.


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