I’d like to start by saying that I’m an English lawyer, I know very little about Irish law. What I do know, I know from Strasbourg case law, and a three and a half hour human rights tutorial (we got carried away…).
By now I’m sure anyone reading this has heard, even in passing, about the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar, who died after being refused an abortion in University COllege Hospital Galway last month. For the full facts I suggest you read the original article in the Irish Times or this press release by Galway Pro-Choice The story broke on twitter late on Tuesday night, and by Wednesday morning the story was spreading rapidly. There were protests outside the Daíl and the Irish Embassy in London yesterday evening, with more protests to come.
Her death is incredibly sad, and I spent most of yesterday in full pro choice feminist rage mode, which I’m sure was fun for my twitter followers. I’m writing this post in order to give a brief summary of the law, but mostly to address an argument being made that effectively amounts to saying that Irish abortion law is fine, no further legislation is needed and Savita’s death was the result of possible medical failings, rather than restrictive abortion laws (spoilers: I think this argument is rubbish).
So, the prisoner votes issue is once again in the news, and right on cue we have the usual tired, disappointing arguments being bandied about. David Cameron has shown a remarkable level of obstiance on the issue, stating that the idea of prisoners having the vote makes him ‘sick’ and that “prisoners are not getting the vote under this government”. The deadline for the government to bring forward legislative proposals is November 22nd, so it was expected that the issue would resurface, but I had hoped that the government would finally see sense. Silly me for being so naive. The day after these comments, the issue was discussed on Question Time (watching QT is always a bad idea when human rights issues are likely to be discussed) and the treatment by the maority of panelists left me angry. Angry enough to resurrect this long dead blog. So, in the words of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford: let’s go.
My argument has two strands. Firstly, what the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) requires, following Scoppola v Italy (the most recent case, and the final attempt by the UK to change the Court’s mind), would not require huge changes, or complete enfranchisement of prisoners, so the political frenzy is not really justified. Secondly, the idea that a blanket ban is acceptable reflects an incredibly out-dated, ultimately destructive view of criminal justice and why we punish people.