27 April 2010
Frodl v Austria (Application no. 20201/04) 8 April 2010 – Read judgment
The European Court of Human Rights has taken another opportunity to criticise a European state for not allowing a prisoner, in this case convicted of murder, to vote. Prisoners will not be voting in the upcoming UK General Election, which may yet lead to a slew of compensation claims against the Government.
We posted recently on the continuing refusal of the UK Government to comply with the 2005 judgment of Hirst v UK, where the European Court held that the ban on prisoners voting in the UK was a breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights.
In Frodl v Austria the Court said that any restriction on voting rights must be proportionate to the end pursued, and
“must reflect, or not run counter to, the concern to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of an electoral procedure aimed at identifying the will of the people through universal suffrage. Any departure from the principle of universal suffrage risks undermining the democratic validity of the legislature thus elected and the laws it promulgates.”
The Court went on to find a violation of the European Convention, for the reason that “it is inconceivable… that a prisoner should forfeit his Convention rights merely because of his status as a person detained following conviction“.
The Court added that a prisoner’s right to vote could in some cases be taken away, but only in the limited scenario where a prisoner was detained as a result of the abuse of a public position or a threat to undermine the rule of law or democratic foundations. In other words, there needs to be a “direct link between the facts on which a conviction is based and the sanction of disenfranchisement“.
In the UK, the Government have shown little willingness to enfranchise prisoners and convicts. This may well be because it prefers the risk of thousands of compensation claims, as well as continuing criticism from Europe, to taking the politically unpopular decision of allowing convicted criminals to vote.
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.
12 April 2010
Prisoners will be unable to vote in the general election despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling almost five years ago that the blanket ban was unlawful.
The House of Lords discussed the issue in the small hours of 7 April 2010 when Lord Ramsbotham, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, tabled an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill which would have removed the ban.
Lord Ramsbotham lamented that the Government was “frightened of offending reactionary public opinion by appearing not to be tough on criminals” and “determined to prevaricate for as long as possible, going to absurd lengths, such as suggesting that prisoners had lost the moral authority to vote.”
The Government insists that it is still considering the responses to its second stage consultation, despite it closing over six months ago.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has also expressed serious concern, noting that the Government risks not only political embarrassment at the Council of Europe, but will be in breach of its international obligation to secure the full enjoyment of Convention rights for everyone within its jurisdiction.
9 February 2010
R (Degainis) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 137 (Admin)
Mr Justice Saunders
When deciding whether to award damages under Article 5(5) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for breach of Article 5(4), regard has to be paid to Article 8 and the limits on damages in that provision. Articles 5 and 8 are not, however, incompatible. There was no basis for the claim that Article 5(4) compensation can only be monetary, and in some cases a finding of a breach can be sufficient compensation.
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7 February 2010
Prisoners could sue if not allowed to vote in the 2010 general election, according to the Barred from Voting Campaign, organised by the Prison Reform Trust.
The group are seeking to remind the Government of the four year old judgment of the European Court of Human Rights 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 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 has as yet not addressed the Court’s ruling; according to The Guardian, ministers have been procrastinating on the issue, fearing that it will prove unpopular with the electorate. With the election looming, the Government may well be be vulnerable to a legal challenge.