Does Nick Clegg want prisoners to vote?

20 September 2010 by

Updated, Tue 21 Sep | It is being reported that Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, is looking to end the ban on prisoners voting in elections. If the law were to change, it would represent the end of a very long road for campaigners. However, they have been waiting since 2005 and may well be waiting for longer yet.

The Times apparently reported this morning (I haven’t confirmed this as it is behind a pay wall) that the deputy prime minister is backing plans for prisoner enfranchisement.

In the 2005 decision of Hirst No 2, 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. The judgment has not yet been implemented in the UK (see our post).

Nick Clegg’s opinion may be key in this instance, as the Guardian reports that the “Cabinet Office confirmed today that responsibility for prisoners’ voting rights was moved in July from Ken Clarke’s justice ministry to the office of the deputy prime minister, which is in charge of electoral reform.”

Last week the Council of Europe, which monitors compliance of European Court of Human Rights judgments, said it “deeply regretted” that despite the Committee’s calls to the United Kingdom over the years to implement the judgment, “the risk of repetitive applications to the European Court has materialised“. It also regretted that “no tangible and concrete information” had been presented by the UK as to how it was planning on implementing the judgment. The Committee also adopted a first interim resolution in December 2009, which basically said the same thing.

Interestingly, the court has now received 1,340 applications with a view to adopting the pilot judgment procedure. The PJP is a new method of dealing with large groups of identical cases that derive from the same underlying problem. The court can decide to select one or more of a group of similar applications for priority treatment.

In dealing with the selected case, it will seek to achieve a solution that extends beyond the particular case or cases so as to cover all similar cases raising the same issue; a paragraph can be added under Article 46 of the Convention which may address in broad terms what should be done to implement the judgment. In this sense, the judgment goes beyond simply finding a violation. This could ultimately cost the UK a lot of money in compensation payments, although it is of note that the court has did not award compensation in Hirst or the more recent case of Frodl v Austria,

The coalition government will be wary of the European Court of Human Rights’ recently acquired new powers to punish intransigent states. But in reality, little has changed. The new government has made no strong commitment yet to implementing the European Court of Rights judgment. The Council of Europe will look at the issue again by December 2010, at which point it may decide to sanction the UK. But as things stand, campaigners may have to wait a little longer.

Update: The prime minister’s press secretary poured cold water over the issue yesterday, sayingthere were a number of court cases, including one currently being considered by the European Court of Human Rights. In considering this issue we would have to take into account what the court said”. This is a slightly odd response, given that the European Court of Human Rights ruled clearly in Hirst No 2 (see above) 5 years ago. Any further hearings on the issue are only likely to come to the same conclusion. The press secretary went on to say “a lot of people in the country would find it difficult to understand the argument that prisoners deserved the right to vote.”

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1 comment;

  1. John Hirst says:

    ”Cabinet Office confirmed today that responsibility for prisoners’ voting rights was moved in July from Ken Clarke’s justice ministry to the office of the deputy prime minister, which is in charge of electoral reform.”

    As far as the law is concerned, Ken Clarke is legally responsible for ensuring that all citizens (including prisoners) have their human rights under the Convention guaranteed.

    Make no mistake, the Association of Prisoners is in no mood for the game to shift from political football to political ping pong…

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