More prisoners disenfranchised, this time in Austria

Frodl v Austria (Application no. 20201/04) 8 April 2010 – Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has taken another opportunity to criticise a European state for not allowing a prisoner, in this case convicted of murder, to vote. Prisoners will not be voting in the upcoming UK General Election, which may yet lead to a slew of compensation claims against the Government.

We posted recently on the continuing refusal of the UK Government to comply with the 2005 judgment of Hirst v UK, where the European Court held that the ban on prisoners voting in the UK was a breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

In Frodl v Austria the Court said that any restriction on voting rights must be proportionate to the end pursued, and

“must reflect, or not run counter to, the concern to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of an electoral procedure aimed at identifying the will of the people through universal suffrage. Any departure from the principle of universal suffrage risks undermining the democratic validity of the legislature thus elected and the laws it promulgates.”

The Court went on to find a violation of the European Convention, for the reason that “it is inconceivable… that a prisoner should forfeit his Convention rights merely because of his status as a person detained following conviction“.

The Court added that a prisoner’s right to vote could in some cases be taken away, but only in the limited scenario where a prisoner was detained as a result of the abuse of a public position or a threat to undermine the rule of law or democratic foundations. In other words, there needs to be a “direct link between the facts on which a conviction is based and the sanction of disenfranchisement“.

In the UK, the Government have shown little willingness to enfranchise prisoners and convicts. This may well be because it prefers the risk of thousands of compensation claims, as well as continuing criticism from Europe, to taking the politically unpopular decision of allowing convicted criminals  to vote.

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