No compensation for UK prisoners denied vote

Published on Tuesday, 12 August 2014 11:25
Written by Daniel Mason

The European court in Strasbourg has upheld its earlier ruling that the UK's ban on prisoner voting breached their human rights.

However, it also said the prisoners involved should not be paid compensation or legal costs.

If the court had agreed to pay costs, the government could have faced many similar claims from other prisoners, with the bill potentially running into millions of pounds.

The case was brought by 10 Scottish prisoners who said their human rights were breached when they were not allowed to vote in the European Parliament elections in 2009.

There had indeed been a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to a free election - the court decided.

The European Court of Human Rights first ruled that the UK's blanket ban on prisoner voting was unlawful in 2004, following a case brought by convicted killer John Hirst, and has maintained that stance since.

However, neither the previous Labour government nor the coalition have complied with the ruling.

In 2011 MPs voted in parliament to keep the ban in place, on the basis that by committing a crime prisoners have forfeited the right to take part in elections.

David Cameron, the prime minister, once said the idea of prisoners having the vote made him feel "physically sick". More recently he has repeated his view that they "damn well shouldn't" be given the vote.

Many Conservatives believe the decision should lie with the UK government rather than judges in Strasbourg.

Last December a cross-party committee of MPs and peers suggested that in order to meet the ECHR ruling, prisoners serving jail terms of a year or less, or those near the end of their sentences, could be given the right to vote.

The vote should "not be removed without good reason" but those who committed "heinous crimes" should be disenfranchised, the committee said.

The Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, a member of the committee, said at the time the decision should be made on the basis of a "more constructive response of rehabilitation and restoration" and not driven "by an attitude of revenge and punishment".

Today Diane James, Ukip's home affairs spokeswoman, claimed the "battle" with the ECHR had "only just begun".

"The push to give prisoners the vote, or award them with compensation, will resume as soon as we take our eye of the ball," she said.

"To conflate a human right with a civic right is to miss the point of protecting the most vulnerable in society and instead open up the law to abuse by people who wilfully disobey rules designed to protect us all.

"The British people rightfully feel strongly on this issue and firmly believe in the justice system and do not want to see it exploited or undermined."

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