UK inmates lose right to vote ruling

 
Peter Chester (pic: Blackpool Gazette) and George McGeoch Chester and McGeoch are both serving life sentences for murder

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The Supreme Court has dismissed appeals from two prisoners over the right to vote under European Union rules.

Convicted murderers Peter Chester and George McGeoch had argued that EU law gave them a right to vote - even though they cannot under British law.

Prime Minister David Cameron told the Commons that the ruling was "a great victory for common sense".

The European Court of Human Rights has previously told the UK to end the blanket ban on prisoners voting.

Parliament is considering legislation, but has not yet decided what to do.

Lord Mance: "The Supreme Court unanimously dismisses both appeals"

Following the Supreme Court's judgement, the BBC's legal correspondent Clive Coleman said: "Critically it ruled that EU law did not provide an individual right to vote, paralleling that recognised by the ECHR. Eligibility under EU law is a matter for national parliaments."

Convicted prisoners in the UK are banned from voting on the basis that they have forfeited that right by breaking the law and going to jail.

Successive governments have wanted to maintain that position but the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said a blanket ban on prisoners voting was disproportionate.

Analysis

Following a case in 2005 brought in the European Court of Human Rights by a British prisoner, it is now pretty well established that the UK's blanket ban on prisoners voting is in breach of European human rights law.

The government has accepted that, but human rights law allows a lengthy time period for responses to judgements, and any change to UK law is unlikely to happen any time soon.

The reason for that, is that if such a challenge succeeds domestically, it can result in a "declaration of incompatibility" i.e. the law being challenged is incompatible with a human right under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). If a challenge succeeds in Strasbourg, domestic law can be found to be a disproportionate restriction of the particular right.

Governments are given time to respond, and that can be dragged out for many years - as it has been in the case of prisoner votes.

It is difficult to get governments to act on the judgements of the ECHR if they do not want to do so.

Peter Chester raped and strangled his niece in Blackpool in 1977 and was jailed for life for her murder. He has served his minimum term but the Parole Board has refused to release him because it says he is too dangerous.

In 2008, he tried to join the electoral roll so that he could vote in the elections for the European Parliament. The Ministry of Justice said he could not until the law was changed.

In the second case, George McGeoch, serving life in a Scottish prison, argued that EU law allowed him to vote in local and European elections.

Although the ECHR has already told the UK to change the law, these two cases focused on whether prisoners as EU citizens have a right to vote even if Westminster says differently.

Last year, the government conceded that it would have to change the law to allow some prisoners to vote.

Ministers have published a draft bill which is being considered by Parliament. The proposals include limiting the vote to inmates who are serving either less than six months or four years.

A further 2,352 inmates have tried to bring voting cases to the European Court of Human Rights. Those applications are adjourned while judges wait to see what Westminster does.

 

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  • rate this
    +96

    Comment number 130.

    If you take away the human right of someone to vote then you should lose your vote. Simple.

  • rate this
    -48

    Comment number 116.

    I agree that those who have taken away the human rights of others should lose the right to vote.
    Leaving the ECHR would be a retrograde step.In the majority of cases it supports and reinforces the rights of us all.
    One of the tests for the Bedroom tax was whether removal of a bedroom affected the right to a family life.
    The ECHR protects all of us and I mistrust any Goverment wishing to leave.

  • rate this
    -268

    Comment number 110.

    By stripping prisoners of their right to vote, they are, in effect, political prisoners. The state enjoys a monopoly over policing, justice and legislation and thus must act from a higher ground of moral principle, than seek justification from the weasel words of the law. The law is not a law of physics, it is a contrivance too often predicated on prejudice and political convenience.

  • rate this
    -161

    Comment number 107.

    Seems to me that common sense would dictate that prisoners should at least be able to vote in elections, the results of which, will be in force on their release date. It should be part of the rehabilitive process.

  • rate this
    +33

    Comment number 105.

    We should have a referendum. Then ECHR can ponder over the dilemma over whether the right to democracy is more important than respecting the outcome of democracy. Should keep this story quiet for the next 25 years

 

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