Update | The Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Draft Bill has been released. It will not be put straight before Parliament for a vote; rather, it will be put to a Committee of both Houses for full Parliamentary scrutiny which could propose amendments, then back to the Government which will “reflect on its recommendations” and subsequently introduce a bill. There is no timetable set out for this process, but I imagine the Council of Europe may want a timetable imposed.
The bill sets out three options:
- A ban for prisoners sentenced to 4 years or more.
- A ban for prisoners sentenced to more than 6 months.
- A ban for all convicted prisoners – a restatement of the existing ban.
One interesting point on a quick read through is that option three “would re-enact the current general ban on prisoner voting, with some minor changes.” The language is indeed different to that used to enact the current ban, which is contained in section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.
No means no
The Government has until 22 November to put forth legislative proposals in order to comply with the court’s rulings on prisoner votes.
I will not retrace the bizarre flip-flop which took place yesterday afternoon as the Attorney General appeared to say one thing about implementing the judgment (it’s complicated) and then the Prime Minister another (no way). Joshua Rozenberg has it right when he calls the situation “profoundly depressing”. For the full background, see my post on Scoppola No. 3, the last judgment on the issue.
I do have three thoughts on the current situation. First, it has become popular to say that there may be a way of solving the crisis which doesn’t require the UK to give any more prisoners the vote, which would be to tell the European Court of Human Rights that we already let remand prisoners and others who haven’t paid fines vote. The argument has been made variously by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, The Independent’s John Rentoul and even last night by a member of the Justice Select Committee, Nick de Bois MP – he told BBC Radio 4 (from 26:25) that “you could almost argue that there isn’t a blanket ban… for example someone on prison on remand or.. for not paying a fine doesn’t lose their right to vote” (I am interviewed immediately afterwards).
In short, unless I am missing something, this argument seems bound to fail. Continue reading
Last Tuesday saw the latest episode in the prisoner voting legal saga with the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber’s judgment reversing the Chamber judgment which found Italy’s automatic ban on voting for prisoners serving over 3 years in prison (and a lifetime ban with the possibility of future relief for those sentenced to more than 5 years) in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Adam Wagner has compared the prisoner voting issue to a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel, noting that ‘the ball is now back on the UK’s side of the table’. Indeed, the UK must still allow at least some prisoners the vote, as required by the 2005 judgment in Hirst v UK (No.2) and the 2010 judgment in Greens & MT v UK. Over at EJIL: Talk!, Marko Milanovic rightly accounts for the unholy mix of law and (inter)national politics that has generated the Grand Chamber’s unprincipled judgment. Indeed, as Carl Gardner suggests on the Head of Legal blog all that logically remains of the Hirst judgment is that automatic disenfranchisement of prisoners that are sentenced for less than 3 years (probably) breaches the convention.
The recent rejection, by a panel of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, of the British government’s attempt to overturn the ruling in Greens and MT v United Kingdom (prisoner voting) case, brings into focus the role of the Strasbourg Grand Chamber.
In this post I attempt to highlight how the idea of a Grand Chamber came about, and its role under the ECHR. Building on Adam Wagner’s earlier posts, I also offer a possible explanation as to why the panel of the Grand Chamber refused a rehearing of the Greens case.
The clock is ticking again on prisoner votes. The European Court of Human Rights has rejected the UK government’s latest appeal in the long-running saga.
The UK had attempted to appeal the recent decision in Greens and M.T. v. the United Kingdom. The full background can be found in my previous post, in which I predicted that the European court would find the UK’s appeal unappealing. It has, and the result is that the UK has just under six months to remove the blanket ban on prisoners voting.
Incidentally, Rosalind’s post from earlier today relates to a separate but also interesting Scottish court judgment on prisoner votes.
I recently compared the prisoner votes issue to a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel. The latest twist in the saga is that the UK government is seeking to overturn the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling in Hirst No. 2. This is certainly a daring tactic, given that the ruling by the Grand Chamber is not open to appeal.
To set out the very basic background (again), in the 2005 decision of Hirst (No. 2),the Grand Chamber of the European Court held the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners voting is in breach of the electoral right under Article 1 of Protocol 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court ruled that the ban was a “general, automatic and indiscriminate restriction on a vitally important Convention right“. Article 46 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which the UK signed up to, obliges it to “abide by the final judgment” of the European Court of Human Rights. So in theory, it should already complied with the judgment.
Updated | Parliament is currently debating on whether prisoners should be given the vote. The motion can be found here and you can watch the debate on Parliament TV.
A Washington Post correspondent recently said US President Barack Obama had been “bounding around like a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel” on to the situation in Egypt. In many ways, the UK government has been doing the same on the 5-year-old judgment in Hirst v UK, in which, as has been endlessly repeated in the media, the European Court of Human Rights’ grand chamber ruled that the indiscriminate ban on prisoners voting breached Article 1 of Protocol 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.