Council of Europe warns UK again over prisoner voting rights
19 November 2010
The Council of Europe, which monitors compliance with European Court of Human Rights judgments, has warned the United Kingdom to stop dragging its feet over the implementation of judgments on politically sensitive issues.
In a draft resolution, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which was unanimously adopted on 17 November 2010, said:
The United Kingdom must put to an end the practice of delaying full implementation of Strasbourg Court judgments with respect to politically sensitive issues, such as prisoners’ voting rights.
The UK government has recently conceded the position on prisoner voting, although it appears not to have been able to put solid enough proposals to the Council of Europe to prevent this warning. The hold up may be because of another recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights in which it prevented Austria from unduly restricting prisoner enfranchisement. It is possible that the coalition are searching for ways of preventing those who have committed more serious crimes from voting, which was mooted when the policy shift was announced and confirmed by Ken Clarke in his recent evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, but which on the face of it the Austrian decision prohibits.
The Council went on to stress that its own role in monitoring compliance would increase:
The Interlaken Declaration and Action Plan of February 2010 specified that priority should be given to full and expeditious compliance with the Court’s judgments. In line with the aims of the Interlaken process, the Assembly considers that it too should remain seized of this matter in order, in parallel, to ensure regular and rigorous parliamentary oversight of implementation issues – both at the European and national levels. The role of national parliaments can be crucial in this respect, as has been illustrated by parliamentary scrutiny mechanisms set up in the Netherlands and in the United Kingdom.
The CoE goes on to give detailed guidance to states as to how to monitor their own compliance with European judgments. Ominously, paragraph 10.3, which urges states “to take all measures necessary to resolve the outstanding implementation problems” tails off where a warning of consequences logically follows. In light of the new stronger powers obtained by the Council of Europe recently, states will have to take notice. But this is the latest in a long line of warnings, and the UK is by no means the most serious offender when it comes to non-implementation of judgments (Russia is far worse). So quick action is probably unlikely.
Thank you to John Hirst for the tip-off.
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