UK breached prisoner voting rights

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg. [Katrinitsa/Flickr]

The UK breached the human rights of more than 1,000 prisoners by denying them the right to vote, according to today’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The UK has a blanket ban on prisoners voting in elections regardless of the severity of their crime, or the duration of their sentence.

The ECHR has repeatedly called for a change in the law, but successive governments have failed to legislate in accordance with the court’s wishes.  

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The ECHR first ruled against the blanket ban on prisoner voting in 2010. This is the fourth time the court has ruled against the UK. The court says an automatic ban violates Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which covers the right to free election.

The latest case was brought by 1,015 prisoners who were unable to vote in elections between 2009 and 2011, a period which included the last UK general election. No compensation has been awarded to the claimants.

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According to Sean Humber, of the law firm at Leigh Day, who is currently acting for 554 prisoner clients in today’s judgment, the government have “cynically sought to drag the matter out through a succession of consultations during the last decade”.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said, “The government has always been clear that it believes prisoner voting is an issue that should ultimately be decided in the UK. However we welcome the Court’s decision to refuse convicted prisoners costs or damages.”

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A draft bill is currently before parliament but no decision is expected until after the election in May.

According to the UK government, The Committee of Ministers, which oversees the ECHR’s judgments, has agreed to defer further discussion of the UK’s implementation until September 2015.

Humber said, “Frankly, this judgment comes as no surprise given that the Court has already found this ban to be unlawful in a succession of judgments over the last decade.”

“However, given the UK government’s stubborn refusal to take action to remedy the breach, as it is legally required to do, and as a consequence of which it is almost certain that prisoners be unable to vote in the forthcoming May 2015 General Election, we are disappointed that the Court has not seen fit to award our clients compensation for breaching their rights.”

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