Last week the Government announced that they plan to explore the possibility of introducing US style sentences of hundreds of years for murder to replace the ‘whole life’ sentence which was ruled to be unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights. This is just another example of our political leaders claiming the moral authority to punish the crimes of society by simply breaking the law themselves.
In the last few years the European Courts also ruled that a blanket ban on prisoners voting is unlawful too. The Government immediately responded, just as they have in this case, by openly saying that they would look for a loophole in the legislation. Yet when people are acquitted at trial because of just such a loophole or technicality, the Government are the first to criticise. I wouldn’t say that people getting away with crimes they have committed is a good thing, but then I wouldn’t say that the Government worming its way out of legal rulings is a good thing either. You can’t have it both ways. Either the law should be straight forward and stuck to, or it should be open to interpretation and, by extension, potential abuse.
David Cameron frequently claims that the British Government should be the masters of our law, not the European Courts. Personally I don’t agree, but even if you do agree with that, the actions of the British Government are contrary not just to European law, but to British law too. The European Court of Human Rights makes its rulings in accordance with such legislation as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). But the Human Rights Act is a separate Act, passed into law by the British Government, which is directly based upon the ECHR. Furthermore, in this country we also have the Bill of Rights, which has nothing to do with European intervention and has been law in this nation for hundreds of years. This Bill of Rights includes the prohibition of any cruel or unusual punishment. Well, I’d say that sentencing someone to five hundred years or more in prison is extremely unusual. Whether it is cruel is a matter of interpretation, but I don’t think anyone could say it was usual.
How can the Government expect those of us who have committed crimes to respect the law and the legislators, and to turn our lives around, when we consistently witness the legislators weaselling their way around, and even directly breaking the law themselves? It’s about time our so called representatives led by example.