In which we admire John Hirst

He brought a case to the High Court in 2001 challenging the ban on prisoners voting under the Representation of the People Act 1983, but his claim was dismissed by Lord Justice Kennedy.

Hirst pursued the case to the European Court of Human Rights which ruled in 2005 that the ban breached the right to free elections under the European Convention on Human Rights.

No, of course not in his entirety: Mr. Hirst is not an admirable character overall. The manslaughter, the further violent crimes when in prison, indeed, just about any and anything I\’ve seen of him online.

However, there is more than a little bit of sneaking admiration for him lurking in the depths of the Worstall soul. To fight, alone, for near a decade, just to get them that be to acknowledge and enforce the law that they themselves signed up for is admirable.

\”Oi, cunto, this is the law and so you must apply it\”. However high and mighty you may be and however low life you think me to be.

No, not the John Wilkes of our day, not that far. But admirable all the same.

Whatever you think of the outcome or of the man in the round, that sort of \’orneriness is something we could do with more of.

25 comments on “In which we admire John Hirst

  1. The man is a complete bastard, but it is all the same thrilling to see the establishment get a kicking, particularly when under the New Labour years the Home Office got to do what the hell it liked to the people of this country.

  2. I really don’t get the whole thing about votes for prisoners. We don’t suspend all the responsibilities of prisoners, so I don’t see why we should suspend their rights. Jeffrey Archer didn’t get a tax holiday for his book royalties while he was inside, so I don’t see why he doesn’t also get the right to vote.

  3. XX Tim Almond // Feb 11, 2011 at 10:56 am

    I really don’t get the whole thing about votes for prisoners. We don’t suspend all the responsibilities of prisoners, so I don’t see why we should suspend their rights. XX

    They are there volutarily. If you give the scum all the rights they would get outside, why the fuck bother sending the bastards down in the first place?

  4. Because as a peer of the realm, Jeffrey Archer doesn’t have a vote anyway.

    “Who can’t vote at a general election
    At a general election, the following people can’t vote:

    anyone under 18 years old
    members of the House of Lords
    European Union citizens
    citizens of any country apart from the Irish Republic and Commonwealth countries
    people serving a sentence in prison
    anyone found guilty of breaking election law in the last five years.”

  5. If you give the scum all the rights they would get outside, why the fuck bother sending the bastards down in the first place?

    They don’t get all the rights they would get outside.

    The essence of the judgements is that the government has to justify its interferences with people’s rights.

    Justify in this case meaning more than “because we think they are scum”.

    And instead of dealing with that – instead of having proper Parliamentary debates, putting it on statutory footing etc – our leaders kept putting it off and simply whinged about being overruled by Johnny Foreigner.

  6. Indeed. Slightly nervous pat on the back from some distance away for Hurst.

    The thing the government carefully isn’t mentioning (I’m assuming because it wants to shore up the Tory Right with a bit of anti-Europe grandstanding, while also being certain that it won’t have any actual effect on Real European Relations) is that a new rule saying:

    1) “suspension or non-suspension of the right to vote is now an official criminal penalty to be used alongside of, or instead of, other criminal penalties”

    2) “it is at every judge’s discretion to impose or not impose this penalty when sentencing a criminal”

    3) “unless there are exceptional circumstances, sentencing guidelines will normally assume suspension of the right to vote if a prison sentence is being imposed, and non-suspension if a non-custodial sentence is being imposed”

    …would cover all the ECHR’s requirements, whilst maintaining the status quo in terms of “no, that filthy murdering bastard doesn’t get a vote”.

  7. …would cover all the ECHR’s requirements

    Not quite all – normal rights of appeal would also have to apply.

    As regards some of the ad hominem comments directed towards John, some people would do well to consider that he has Asperger’s syndrome and, as such, his lack of social skills and inabilty to empathise with others is only to be expected.

  8. “As regards some of the ad hominem comments directed towards John, some people would do well to consider that he has Asperger’s syndrome and, as such, his lack of social skills and inabilty to empathise with others is only to be expected.”

    He claims to have Asperger’s.

    Frankly, it’s an insulty to real Asperger’s sufferers not to conclude that he did what he did because he was a vile man, rather than because he has some nebulous ‘disability’.

    And can you actually ‘ad hominem’ an axe-manslaughterer anyway?

  9. And can you actually ‘ad hominem’ an axe-manslaughterer anyway?

    Yes. If an axe-manslaughterer says X it would be ad hominem to respond with, “X is false because you’re an axe-manslaughterer.” (With limited exceptions. If X was, say, “I’m a lifelong pacifist” or “I’ve never wielded an axe” then it would be more legitimate.)

  10. Surely there would be more instances where ” X is false because you’re an axe-manslaughterer ” than that ? There is for instance a moral philosophical question concerning whether those who have killed someone and therefore permanently removed their right to vote, should also be required to forfeit that right permanently.

  11. Dedicating ten years to try and prove how hard done by he was fits with somebody with Asperger’s, not understanding that he has to show some kind of remorse for killing a defenceless old lady fits with Asperger’s, however brutally bludgeoning a defenceless old lady to death and feeling no remorse about it cannot be blamed on Asperger’s.

  12. brutally bludgeoning a defenceless old lady to death and feeling no remorse about it cannot be blamed on Asperger’s

    Quite the contrary, Asperger’s is a highly plausible explanation for John’s inability to feel or express remorse for his actions.

    In order to feel remorse one must possess the capacity to empathise with other human beings which, in turn, requires that one possesses a functional theory of mind.

    The is ample evidence to show that individuals on the autistic spectrum lack, to varying degrees, just such a functional theory of mind and one should, therefore, not be surprised to find that in some cases this leaves individual incapable of expressing remorse for their actions.

    John may well be capable of understanding in rational (i.e. Kantian) terms that he should feel remorse and were it not for his condition, which limits his understanding of his social environment, he might even attempt to feign remorse but this still not be the same as genuinely feeling remorse.

  13. If Hurst had been hanged as he should have been it would saved him (and us) having to worry about his right to vote.

  14. Unity has got it wrong znd JuliaM is correct. What Unity is describing is indeed a sociopath/psychopath.

    An Aspergers spectrum sufferer CAN feel empathy and understands that others have the same emotions etc. What they cannot do, is read non-verbal cues and body language. They are described as “mind blind”.

    You or I can often sence a “wrong ‘un” like a used car salesman etc, but an Asperger’s spectrum sufferer cannot. They take what they are told at face value, or, understanding that people can be deceptive, cannot discriminate because thay cannot read non-verbal cues.

    This is why they tend to be socially reclusive and/or gravitate towards jobs and careers that do not involve critical interaction with people.

    In other words, they lack “people skills”. They do NOT lack empathy and are Not Narcicisstically self centred like sociopaths.

  15. And of course Aspergers or Autistic Spectrum individuals have a well developed theory of mind – unfortunately the theory is only reasonably accurate when applied to other individuals on the spectrum.

    Very similar to mainstream individuals, whose ‘theory of mind’ only really works with other mainstream individuals. Thus they have no understanding of the autistic spectrum.

  16. Paul,

    Where to begin?

    1. Social withdrawal and reclusivity is not a typical feature of Asperger’s Syndrome, rather its the case that people with AS tend to be socially active by comparison to individuals with autism. They may, however, become increasingly reclusive over time in response to the negative reactions their efforts at social interaction can generate if its not realised that they have AS.

    2. AS does leave individuals with a limited capacity for empathy although the degree of limitation is variable from individual to individual. In John’s case, these limitations appear to be particularly severe.

    Many AS individuals can and do learn to compensate for their limited capacity for empathy by developing a theoretical understanding of other people’s emotions – they can, in effect, learn to identify and respond to others’ feeling by way of reasoning them out and developing adaptive behaviours but that should not be confused with empathy, which relies on an intutive capacity to understand emotions.

    Where AS differs from Anti-social Personality Disorder (sociopathy is considered a sub-type of ASPD) in practical terms is that it lacks the narcissistic element evident in ASPD although the major difference resides in the pathology of the two conditions.

    AS is a neurological condition, sociopathy is a socially-derived disorder, so Aspie are born, sociopaths are made.

  17. If Hurst had been hanged as he should have been it would saved him (and us) having to worry about his right to vote.

    Even the Victorians didn’t hang people for manslaughter.

  18. Oh, also:
    Julia: “No it wouldn’t. Too many bleeding heart judges for that to work.”

    Unity: “Not quite all – normal rights of appeal would also have to apply.”

    Problem solved, between the two of you. As we all know, the Attorney General can (and does) appeal against sentences which are sufficiently lenient or draconian to fall outside the sentencing guidelines.

  19. Unity,

    Apologies.

    I expect being the brother of an Aspie (and possibly being a very, very mild one myself) I was a little too sensitive to the idea that people with AS lack empathy and are essentially just like sociopaths.

    Re-reading what you wrote, I see that that is NOT what you said at all.

    You are of course, right, I just didn’t read carefully enough.

    I think where I went wrong is the beginning of your post where you quoted Chris, I instinctively thought you were explaining the crime as well as the lack of “appropriate expression of remorse”. being explicable by his AS.

    I agree with Chris in that his lack of remorse is explicable by by Aspergers but I have a problem with the idea that the crime itself might be, which again, is not what you said.

    (Ironically, when he was a young teen, I wondered briefly if my brother might in fact be a psycopath because of his symptoms. Jumping on you because I thought you conflated AS with sociopathic personality disorders is even a bit funny now that I think about it).

  20. In praise of the Devilish Advocate, much appreciated.

    I don’t believe that either myself or the Criminal Justice System was best served when the police surgeon opined in his report that I showed no remorse. I recall that he took intimate samples, fingernail scrapings, head and pubic hair, blood and saliver. He asked me not one single question in relation to the killing. You won’t find remorse in intimate samples. Nobody asked subsequently, they simply restated what had been opined at the outset. This stayed on my prison record for 14 years, until I pointed out to a lifer governor that there were 2 CofA decisions stating that self-reporting of a crime is a strong indication of remorse.

    Similarly the prison doctor who likened me to the Wild Man of Borneo taking a head back to the tribe to prove that I was a man, was an ex-Naval surgeon without a single psychiatric qualification following his name, therefore it is not surprising that he misdiagnosed me as a psychopath. That label stuck for 23 years until I was risked assessed for release and it was found that I was not a psychopath after all.

    “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (“Who will guard the guards themselves?”) the answer is I will. I learned the law, going from a lawbreaker to a law-maker, and discovered that it is a double edged sword. One edge to punish and one edge to protect. And, the law-makers became the law breakers. A classic tale of the poacher turned gamekeeper.

    It was drummed into me that I could not beat the system, so it was no point trying. I like a challenge. I proved them wrong, I did beat the system and I played by their own rules.

    High-functioning autism (Aspergers Syndrome) is a recognised disability, it has been called the hidden disability, because it is not always apparent to those who come into contact with a person who is different. Some like me have the ability to focus on detail, and the devil is in the detail. I am particularly interested in the subjects of power and abuse of power.

    My crime was an abuse of power. Prison is all about power and abuse of power. Politics is the same. Foulkes aruged that: “There is a need for public power and its efficient exercise: there is a need for protection against abuse of power”. I agree with him. Harlow and Rawlings speak of green light and red light theorists. The former favours State power, the latter seeks to curb abuse of State power. I fall into the latter category. I draw the legal/political landscape. I say where the State can and cannot go.

    It was a big mistake for the Prison Sevice to try to beat me, after 10 years thwarting me from higher education they gave in. The Coalition is making the same mistake trying to ignore me. What Lord Mackay of Clashfern called the “Hirst problem” won’t go away. To deal with it requires that they deal with me. They can kill me or talk to me. Do they really want me to open Pandora’s Box? I have nothing to lose.

    When I reached the 15 years tariff (retribution and deterrence) stage of my life sentence, I had paid my debt to society according to the law. Some without either legal or moral authority expect me to pay more. I refuse to give into them. Time for the crime has been served, and an extra 10 years which the State has yet to justify.

    I spent between 12-15 years working out the Prisoners Votes Case, Hirst v UK (No2), so I am not surprised that Labour could not find any legal loophole in 5 years. I was told that “They” don’t understand the law, so I learned it because it was their weak spot to launch an attack. I suppose it’s a bit like keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. Or, the Trojan Horse once inside…

    Aptly named Chris Strange: “Dedicating ten years to try and prove how hard done by he was fits with somebody with Asperger’s, not understanding that he has to show some kind of remorse for killing a defenceless old lady fits with Asperger’s, however brutally bludgeoning a defenceless old lady to death and feeling no remorse about it cannot be blamed on Asperger’s”.

    I have dealt with the remorse issue above. Ignorance, prejudice and fear are not so easily dealt with. I don’t recall ever spending 10 years to try and prove how hard done by I was. I do recall the first 10 years of refusing to simply roll over. I accept that the criminal law imposes a custodial sentence, and s.47 of the Prison Act 1952 states that all prisoners are in the total control of the Secretary of State 24/7. However a flaw in the latter is exposed when an awkward person like me simply says “No”. The onus is upon them to control me and not upon me to control myself on their behalf. It’s called residual liberty. The HofL said it does not exist in day to day prison life. I know as much about the HofL tearoom as they know about the day to day life of prison! In any event, I am certainly not blaming my AS for the killing. My condition wasn’t known about at the time of the offence. I have at no stage sought to justify my conduct, I cannot so I do not waste my breath or time on this pointless exercise. However, I can and do offer explanations. Whether they are accepted or not, I don’t care one iota. Stress is a known killer, usually it is said in terms of leading a worrier to death. Stress can lead someone with AS to overreact to a situation. And I would advise against inexperienced social workers and probation officers and trainee psychologists from experimenting with subjects, they can play a part in causing an imbalance of the mind which could result in fatal consequences. I did warn the probation officer prior to the killing that there was a serious problem, and he ignored the warning. I did not specify a killing, only that something was not right in my head. And, that I found the landlady unbearable. Six or seven other lodgers had said the same about her, but they were not unbalanced so just left. The probation service said if I left I would be in breach of my probation licence. I felt trapped. It is not advisable to corner a rat.

    In prison I would put myself in a corner because I knew I could only come forward, and nobody could get behind me. In survival terms it stood me in good stead. I survived. Job done. To be called “Five foot six inches and a stick of dynamite”, or “More intimidating than the Krays Twins and Richardson Gang together”, or as a London gangster once said to me “I could break both your arms, and legs, and bust your head, but I would be always looking over my shoulder for your come back” are satisfying compliments akin to Tim Worstall’s “We can admire John Hirst”. I know I am an extraordinary character. Someone special. Not for my offence, but for what I have so far achieved since then. If only my life had taken a different turn…

  21. I would just like to add, don’t believe everything you read about me in the media. For example, Tim refers to the Telegraph profile of me under Craig Stennet’s photo it states “Mr Hirst was released in 2004 after serving 10 years more than his original sentence due to a number of violent crimes committed in prison”. I have not been convicted of any violent crimes whilst in prison. Therefore, I am innocent of the Daily Telegraph allegations. Unless the words come out of my own mouth treat with suspicion.

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