The European Court of Human Rights has overruled Britain’s prohibition on voting by prisoners. The Strasbourg-based court found, however, that the 10 inmates who challenged the ban were not entitled to compensation.
The Strasbourg court agreed 5-2 that the UK prisoners had been wrongly denied access to ballots on Tuesday. The court found that, despite a recent amendment to British electoral law, inmates remained banned from voting, in breach of the right to free elections enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
“It makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison,” UK Prime Minister David Cameron had said in 2010. Lawmakers preserved the ban in 2011.
Ten prisoners banned automatically from voting for the European Parliament in 2009 had brought the case. Though judges ruled in their favor Tuesday on the question of basic human rights, they unanimously rejected their application for compensation, calling the ruling to condemn the UK law “sufficient just satisfaction.”
The court also rejected their claim for the reimbursement of legal costs.
‘The impugned legislation’
The court had also ruled against Britain on the issue in 2005 and 2010. According to Strasbourg, individual countries may decide which prisoners to disenfranchise but countries cannot institute total bans. On Tuesday, the judges said they recognized efforts that the UK government had made to address those concerns.
A 2012 draft bill proposed three options: giving the vote to prisoners serving less than four years, to those doing under six months, or to none, keeping the total ban. A committee examined the bill and made a fourth recommendation: that prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less could vote.
The ban remains, and the judges ruled Tuesday that “given that the impugned legislation remains unamended, the court cannot but conclude that … there has been a violation” of human rights law.
“The government has always been clear that it believes prisoner voting is an issue that should ultimately be decided in the UK,” a British Justice Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.
He said, however, that the government would again consider the recommendations from the parliamentary committee. “This is not a straightforward issue, and the government needs to think carefully about the recommendations, which included new options for implementation,” the spokesman said.
Threat to quit convention
UK Home Secretary Theresa May has previously suggested that Britain’s ruling Conservatives could pledge that if they win the 2015 election the United Kingdom would pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights, which the Strasbourg court enforces. The court is not formally an institution of the EU.
The Tories have increasingly embraced euroskepticism, including at the highest levels of government. This follows a populist push by the anti-EU UK Independence Party.
In 2013, the court ruled against the United Kingdom for jailing prisoners for life without the possibility of release.
mkg/ipj (Reuters, AFP)