Council of Europe raps UK on prisoner voting [updated]

9 June 2010 by

The Council of Europe has expressed “profound regret” that the UK has failed to implement its 5-year-old European Court of Human Rights ruling against the policy which prevents prisoners from voting in elections.

In a Committee of Ministers decision, the Council, which monitors compliance with European Court rulings, has:

expressed profound regret that despite the repeated calls of the Committee, the United Kingdom general election was held on 6 May 2010 with the blanket ban on the right of convicted prisoners in custody to vote still in place

It also appears to be giving the new Government a chance, expressing

confidence that the new United Kingdom government will adopt general measures to implement the judgment ahead of elections scheduled for 2011 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and thereby also prevent further, repetitive applications to the European Court;

In the 2005 decision of Hirst, the European Court held that Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which prevents prisoners from voting, is in breach of the electoral right under Article 1 of Protocol 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Pannick suggested shortly before the election that prisoners may be entitled to around £750 compensation if denied the vote. This figure then became commonly touted as the amount of compensation people may receive having been denied due to administrative incompetence during the election. Solicitor firms are already launching claims, and in theory tens of thousands may follow.

The matter has been now put off until September 2010, where the Committee will “resume consideration of this case at their 1092nd meeting (September 2010) (DH), in light of a draft interim resolution to be prepared by the Secretariat if necessary.” In deciding what to do now, the Coalition government will be wary of the European Court of Human Rights’ recently acquired new powers to punish intransigent states.

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