Category: Protocol 1 Article 3 | Free elections
1 November 2010
Updated | According to the Daily Telegraph, the prime minister has conceded that the government has no choice but to comply with a five-year-old European Court of Human Rights judgment and grant prisoners voting rights in the next general election.
The Telegraph reports:
on Wednesday a representative for the Coalition will tell the Court of Appeal that the law will be changed following legal advice that the taxpayer could have to pay tens of millions of pounds in compensation.
The decision, which brings to an end six years of government attempts to avoid the issue, opens the possibility that even those facing life sentences for very serious crimes could in future shape Britain’s elections.
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20 September 2010
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.
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29 July 2010
An appropriate logo
The Supreme Court has narrowly held that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) can keep nearly all of a £349,216 donation despite the donor not being a permissible donor at the time of receipt, contrary to party funding rules under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
The Supreme Court upheld an order originally made at the City of Westminster Magistrates Court to the effect that the party only had to give back a small proportion of the money. UKIP will now only have to forfeit £14,481, rather than the full amount. According to the BBC, this will save the party from financial ruin. We will have more detail on the decision, which was by a narrow 4-3 majority, soon. In the meantime, the Supreme Court press summary can be found here, and is reproduced below.
27 July 2010
The Electoral Commission has released its full report into the events surrounding the May 2010 election during which thousands of voters were barred from polling stations due to administrative problems.
The Commission, whose report can be downloaded here, has used the fiasco as a chance to emphasise and bring forward its reform program. The watchdog reports that the Election was generally well run, but that:
Queues formed at several polling stations on polling day (6 May), and some people in those queues were unable to vote when the polls closed at 10pm. Just over 1,200 people were affected at 27 polling places in 16 constituencies. The main contributory factors were poor planning, the use of unsuitable buildings, inadequate staffing arrangements and the failure of contingency plans.
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9 June 2010
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;
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30 May 2010
The Guardian reports today that prisoner voting rights will be back in the public eye this week with critical comments from Europe and increased pressure from compensation claims.
Interestingly, the article has now been amended to remove part of a quote from the Ministry of Justice, who had initially said that “Disenfranchisement is an outdated, disproportionate punishment which has no place in a modern prison system with a renewed emphasis on rehabilitation and resettlement”. This line has been replaced by a policy-neutral quote. On the face of it, it seems that government may finally act on this issue, five years after the European Court of Human Rights criticism of its ban in the case of Hirst v UK.
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.
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21 May 2010
The Electoral Commission, an independent body which sets standards for the running of elections, has released its report on problems experienced by voters during the 2010 General Election. It calls for “urgent action” to ensure that “the restrictive rules which prevented participation should be changed”. This has probably opened the door to legal claims.
The Interim Report found that at least 1,200 people were still queuing at 27 polling stations in 16 constituencies at 10pm. It concludes that the main contributing factors to this problem were:
- Evidence of poor planning assumptions in some areas.
- Use of unsuitable buildings and inadequate staffing arrangements at some polling stations.
- Contingency arrangements that were not properly triggered or were unable to cope with demand at the close of poll.
- Restrictive legislation which meant that those present in queues at polling stations at the close of poll were not able to be issued with a ballot paper.
There are a number of possible legal remedies for barred voters.
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13 May 2010
Not for everyone
We posted earlier this week on whether those who were locked out from voting in the 2010 General Election can claim for compensation under the Human Rights Act 1998 (read our post here). Liberty are asking spurned voters to contact them with a view to further legal action. But Joshua Rozenberg argues in this morning’s Law Society Gazette that those voters will face significant difficulties finding a legal remedy.
Our post concentrated on potential remedies under the Human Rights Act 1998, highlighting that the European Court of Human Rights has been reluctant to award monetary compensation in the past. The European Court has generally held that the “just satisfaction” remedy under human rights law was fulfilled by the fact that criticism from the court would lead to a change in the respective State’s voting system. As such, financial compensation to reflect the breach of the voters’ rights was not seperately awarded. It should be noted, however, that many of the recent cases involved prisoners and ex-convicts being barred from voting. We concluded that
Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, has already said that the problem “shows a lack of foresight and preparation”, so it seems unlikely that voters will be left without a remedy, and that may come in the form of compensation probably by way of an out of court settlement… However, how much that will be is by no means clear, and it may be difficult to prove in practice that a person was prevented from voting as a direct result of administrative difficulties.
Rozenberg addresses potential remedies under the Representation of the People Act 1983, and in particular the potential that some ballots may have to be re-run:
What about trying to get the election re-run in a constituency where a lot of people were unable to vote? A dissatisfied voter may present a petition which may be tried by an election court. But there is little chance of a second poll unless the number of people who were locked out in a particular constituency is more than the winning candidate’s majority. Even then, there might need to be some evidence that the non-voters were likely to have supported the candidate who came second rather than, as seems more likely, that they would have voted in proportion to the constituency as a whole.
That is because section 23 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 says that ‘no parliamentary election shall be declared invalid by reason of any act or omission by the returning officer or any other person in breach of his official duty… if… the election was so conducted as to be substantially in accordance with the law as to elections and the act or omission did not affect its result’.
It will be clearly be difficult for spurned voters to bring claims. However, there is a strong duty imposed by human rights law on the State to conduct free and fair elections. Further, it seems that at least some of the constituencies where voters were turned away were ultimately decided by a small majority. This is unsurprising, as one would expect turnout to be higher in places where people expect the vote to be close. So, the uphill climb which spurned voters face may still lead to some kind of legal remedy.
9 May 2010
With possibly thousands of people prevented from voting in the 2010 General Election, can those who were locked out claim for compensation for breach of their human rights, and how much are they likely to receive?
The legal basis: Article 1 of Protocol 3 to the European Convention on Human Rights, the duty on States to hold free and fair elections, has been receiving more than its usual share of attention. Under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a convention right. Under Section 7, a person may bring proceedings against a public authority which has acted unlawfully. One of the potential remedies is compensation.
How many: It appears that thousands of voters may have been prevented from voting as polling stations were unable to handle the amount of people who arrived in the last few hours before voting closed at 10pm. For example, The Guardian reports that “In Chester more than 600 people were unable to vote because the electoral list had not been updated and Labour won on a majority of 549“and in Hackney “The council estimated that 270 voters were turned away at four polling stations in the south of the borough.” In Sheffield Hallam “students tried to prevent ballot boxes being taken to the count after up to 500 voters were turned away”.
How much: We posted on Friday on an article by Lord Pannick, a human rights barrister, in which he said that prisoners denied the right to vote (a separate but certainly comparable issue to those who were turned away) may be entitled to awards “in the region of £750 and possibly more”. Geoffrey Robertson QC, also a well known human rights barrister, told the BBC that spurned voters may be entitled to “at least £750”.
However, it is not clear where either lawyer derived the £750 figure from.
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7 May 2010
See a more recent post on this topic here
One of the enduring images of the 2010 General Election will be of long queues of people turned away from polling stations due to lack of facilities. This may well result in legal action. But according to Lord Pannick, the worse scandal may be the exclusion of 85,000 prisoners, which he says is “a constitutional disgrace that undermines the legitimacy of the democratic process”.
The BBC reports this morning that hundreds of voters were turned away from polling stations throughout the UK. This was initially blamed on a higher than expected turnout. The Electoral Commission has promised a “thorough review“, but legal action may follow from the individuals, who have been denied their basic rights, but also from the parties who may argue that marginal results would have been different if people hadn’t been turned away. In the likely outcome of a hung parliament, every seat counts and litigation may therefore follow (Update – Afua Hirch in The Guardian: Legal challenge to polling stations could result in byelections; meanwhile, Liberty, the human rights organisation, says that it will investigate the issue on behalf of voters.)
Those who have been disenfranchised may be entitled to claim under the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 1, Protocol 3 of the European Convention provides:
“The High Contracting Parties shall hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.”
This Article imposes obligations on States, and the provision includes the right to vote. Voters should be able to claim for damages under section 8 of the Human Rights Act if they can prove that they were denied a vote due to administrative incompetence, which appears to have been the case in some places. Whilst high turnout may have been a factor, voters will argue that high turnout has been predicted for a while, and should have been planned for. Similar claims were made in respect of the controversial 2000 presidential election in the United States, which was ultimately decided by the US Supreme Court, but resulted in months of paralysis.
Whilst a few hundred appear to have been affected by administrative incompetence, Lord Pannick, barrister and cross-bench peer, argues that the absolute ban on prisoners voting runs contrary to repeated decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. We have posted recently on the tens of thousands of potential compensation claims that may result, which Lord Pannick estimates will be worth at least £750 each. Similar claims may be available to those who were denied the vote for other reasons.
Lord Pannick is scathing of the Government’s failure to implement the European decisions. He says:
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6 May 2010
The UK General Election takes place today. For the 38% of voters who may yet still change their minds, below are our previous posts on the General Election 2010 and human rights:
22 April 2010
A prisoner is suing the UK Government in the European Court of Human Rights for the right to vote in the upcoming General Election. With voting registration already closed, he won’t be voting in the election, but he may receive compensation. This could open the door to claims from tens of thousands of prisoners in the UK.
The BBC reports that Leon Punchard, 19, who is serving an 18-month sentence at Norwich prison for burglary, has filed an application to the European Court for a declaration and compensation.
We have already posted on the ban on prisoners voting (see here and here). Four years ago, the European Court of Human Rights criticised the policy in Hirst v UK, which arose out of the 2002 case of R v Home Secretary ex parte Hirst. The European Court held that Section 4 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 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 Government insists that it is still considering the responses to its second stage consultation on the issue, despite it closing over six months ago. With voter registration for the 2010 General Election closing on 20 April, prisoners will not get their chance to vote in a general election for at least a few more years.
However, Mr Prichard may well win a compensation payment from the UK Government, which the European Court of Human Rights has the power to award in cases where a contracting state has breached a citizen’s human rights. This could open the door to the other 87,883 serving prisoners to bring their own legal actions.