Denying prisoners vote is human rights breach

DENYING the vote to a group of prisoners was a breach of human rights, although no compensation should be paid, European judges have ruled..

Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison. Picture: TSPL

The case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) concerned ten prisoners who were unable to vote in elections to the European Parliament on 4 June, 2009.

The ECHR ruled that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a free election.

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Judges said they reached this conclusion as the case was identical to another prisoner-voting case in the UK, in which a blanket ban was deemed a breach.

The court rejected the applicants’ claim for compensation and legal costs. The judges said they had recognised recent steps taken in the UK, with the publication of a draft bill and the report of a committee appointed to examine the bill.

The commitee came back with a key recommendation to allow prisoners who were serving 12 months or less to be eligible to vote. However, as legislation remained unamended, the court concluded there had been a violation of the convention.

However, the government has escaped the prospect of having to make payouts in hundreds of similar cases before the ECHR in light of the ruling on compensation and legal costs.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The government has always been clear that it believes prisoner voting is an issue that should ultimately be decided in the UK.”

In 2005, the ECHR in Strasbourg ruled that the UK’s ban on prisoners voting was unlawful following a claim made by convicted killer John Hirst.

But in 2011, MPs voted by an overwhelming 234 to 22 to preserve the ban, in spite of the ECHR ruling.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling published a draft bill in 2012 offering MPs three options – giving the vote to prisoners serving less than four years, or less than six months, or keeping the ban.

The committee put forward a fourth option – calling on the government to table a bill granting the vote in local, general and European elections to those serving less than 12 months, with exceptions for those convicted of particularly serious crimes.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “The UK government cannot continue to flout human rights law by preventing people in prison from voting in free elections.”

Isabella Sankey, Liberty’s policy director, said: “The court has shown respect for parliamentary sovereignty – even now declining to award damages or costs.”

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling gave MPs three options