European court rules UK wrong to deny prisoners vote

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Legislative amendment required to make UK electoral law compatible with European Convention

Legislative amendment required to make UK electoral law compatible with European Convention

LONDON – A group of prisoners in British jails have won a case against the UK in the European Court of Human Rights for denying them the right to vote.

The court declared Tuesday that Britain was in violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 of the convention on Human Rights, by not letting the ten internees vote in June 2009 European parliament elections. 

Protocol 1 states, "The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature."

Five judges voted in favour and two against. However, the court dismissed claims for compensation and legal costs saying that the judgement itself was “sufficient just satisfaction.” 

In its ruling, the court said “some legislative amendment would be required [to British law] to make the electoral law compatible with the Convention,” but it recognised recent steps taken in the United Kingdom, with the publication of a draft bill related to the ruling and a Parliamentary report to examine it. 

"Given, however, that the legislation remained unamended, the Court concluded that there had been a violation.”

Isabella Sankey of civil rights organisation Liberty said, “While some Conservatives play cheap politics with Churchill’s human rights legacy, the Court urges the Government to listen to its own cross-party parliamentary committee and remove the blanket ban on prisoner voting."

She added that despite a violation of almost ten years, the Court had shown patience and respect for parliamentary sovereignty – "even now declining to award damages or costs”

The government is currently in the process of considering a recommendation put forward by a cross-party select committee that prisoners serving a jail term of one-year or less should be allowed to vote.

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