UK Politics

Votes for prisoners: Cameron says UK will fight European Court

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Media captionCameron: 'I believe this is a matter for Parliament to decide, not a foreign court'

The prime minister has told MPs he will resist a European court ruling that prisoners should be given the right to vote in UK elections.

David Cameron said the ban on voting from jail "should be a matter for Parliament... and not a foreign court".

Labour has said it will back the prime minister's stance.

But Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams said prisoners serving short sentences should be allowed to vote as part of their rehabilitation.

Earlier this week the European Court of Human Rights gave the UK six months to outline how it proposes to change the law on prisoner votes.

Asked by DUP leader Nigel Dodds to promise that he would not "succumb to the diktat from the European Court of Human Rights", Mr Cameron said: "Well, the short answer to that is yes."

'Stand together'

The Strasbourg court has ruled that it is up to national authorities to decide which prisoners should be denied the right to vote from jail but said that a blanket ban is illegal.

Labour shadow minister Andy Burnham told the BBC's Daily Politics his party would back the government if it were to challenge the ECHR's decision.

He told the programme: "The court has crossed a line with this one and we need to take a stand genuinely. It's an unacceptable intrusion into domestic policy in my view...

"I do think there is an important issue of principle here and we should together send a very clear message back to Strasbourg."

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron said he had always believed that those who are sent to prison "should lose certain rights", including the right to vote, adding: "Parliament has made its decision and I completely agree with it."

But while backbench Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams, a member of the constitutional reform select committee, said the issue wasn't a "coalition breaker" he said the British government should respect the European court's decision.

"I think you need to rehabilitate prisoners, and maintaining links with society - such as the right to vote - is an important part of that process," he said, but added anyone serving a long sentence for "rape, murder or terrorism" should be barred from taking part in elections.

Mr Williams warned that prisoners could take out compensation claims against the UK if the government sticks with the ban.

The European Court this week ruled that denying Franco Scoppola, a convicted murderer in Italy, the right to vote did not breach his human rights. But judges insisted this was because there is no "general, automatic, indiscriminate" ban in place - as there is in the UK.

At present, the only prisoners allowed to vote in Britain are those on remand.

In 2005, the ECHR, which is not an institution of the European Union, ruled the ban unlawful.

And in 2010, the Council of Europe, which enforces the court's decrees, urged the coalition government to rectify the situation.

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