The coalition government’s latest experiment in direct democracy is a website where people can post epetitions. If a petition gets at least 100,000 signatures, it will be eligible for debate in the House of Commons. The epetitions website is here http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/index.html.
One of the first campaigns to be launched is the so-called Restore Justice campaign, arguing for the restoration of the death penalty for murderers of police officers and children. It is generally supposed that a majority of the public would support such a move, but that this is a matter of conscience that is not shared by a majority of MPs. Is this an example of disconnect between the public and the political class, or is it merely a demonstration of parliamentary democracy in action? MPs are free to act as they see fit, subject to the fact that they must be re-elected every five years or so.
If this petition gets its 100,000 signatures, which I guess may well happen, the issues that it raises are complex. The petition itself asks:
“the government to review all treaties and international commitments which may inhibit the ability of Parliament to restore capital punishment.”
Those treaties include the Lisbon treaty, which gave legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, in which Article 2, “Right to life”, reads:
1. Everyone has the right to life.
2. No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.
To reintroduce the death penalty in the UK would require withdrawal from this part of the Charter. How that could be done, nobody knows. There is provision in the Lisbon treaty for a member state to withdraw altogether, but to pick and choose some bits and not others? Maybe that’s what this epetition will lead to. Maybe it’s intended to.