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:
The government has reportedly revised its plan to allow prisoners serving less than 4 years to vote in elections. Ministers now seek to limit the right to those sentenced to a year or less.
A looming presence in the debate has been the much-touted figure of £160m compensation which the prime minister has warned Parliament that the UK will have to pay if it does not comply with a 6-year-old judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (see my last post on the issue for the full background). But where did this figure arise from? And is it right?
Griffiths v Secretary of State for Justice (Equality and Human Rights Commission intervening)  EHWC 4077 (Admin) – read judgment.
Oliver Sanders of 1 Crown Office Row represented the Defendant in this case and Adam Wagner also acted for the Defendant prior to the substantive hearing. They are not the writers of this post.
Two female prisoners nearing the date on which they would be considered for release on licence, brought conjoined challenges against the Secretary of State for Justice in respect of the provision of ‘approved premises.’ The Claimants challenged the alleged continuing failure to make adequate provision for approved premises to accommodate women prisoners like them released on licence.
Mr Justice Cranston rejected the argument that the limited number of approved premises for women treated female prisoners released on licence into such premises less favourably than comparable men. He held that despite the likelihood of a greater geographic separation from their homes and families, the Secretary of State had not discriminated directly or indirectly against female prisoners. However, the Secretary of State had failed to fulfil his duty under the Equality Act 2010 to consider the impact of the limited provision of approved premises of women.
The Deputy Prime Minister has said that he cannot declare the Coalition Government’s House of Lords Reform Bill as compatible with the Human Rights Act, as prisoners will be banned from voting for Lords if the bill becomes law.
278… the Deputy Prime Minister has said that he is unable to sign a statement under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998. The Government wishes Parliament to proceed with the Bill notwithstanding that such a statement of compatibility cannot be made.
The reason that the Bill will not be compatible with the ECHR is that perennial headache for this (and indeed the last) Government, prisoner votes. As the explanatory notes explain:
Today, the Scottish Government have introduced the “paving Bill” to Holyrood which will finally settle the franchise for the independence referendum in 2014. If passed, it will finally extinguish the hopes of expats, diaspora Scots and those living furth of Scotland who wanted to vote in the poll.
Much of the attention has zoomed in on the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year olds, which ministers hope to affect by establishing a Register of Young Voters alongside the local government register. It is envisaged that this young voters roll will not be published.
As Andrew Tickellnoted in his post on Wednesday the European Court of Human Rights this week ruled that the UK violated the Article 5(1) ECHR rights of three prisoners sentenced to indeterminate prison sentences for public protection, where reasonable provision for their rehabilitation was not made.
In April 2005, the Government introduced indeterminate imprisonment for the public protection, or “IPP sentences”, whereby certain prisoners would not have a right to parole. Instead, under section 225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, they would remain in prison following expiry of their tariff periods until a Parole Board had decided they were no longer a risk to the public. Prior to an amendment in 2008, an IPP sentence was mandatory where there was a future risk of further offending, and there was an assumption of risk where there was a previous conviction for a violent or sexual offence unless the sentencing judge considered it unreasonable to make such an assumption.
I posted recently on the ongoing saga surrounding the UK’s implementation of the Hirst No. 2 case, in which the European Court of Human Rights found that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners voting was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The correspondence between the court and the UK Government is now available and I have reproduced it below.
In short, the UK previously had until 11 October 2011 to “introduce legislative proposals” to end the ban. But it has now been given a reprieve as a result of seeking to intervene in another case, Scoppola v Italy (No. 3) (available in French, English press release here), which is going to the court’s Grand Chamber This is another prisoner voting case.
The Queen on the application of Arvdas Klimasv. Prosecutors General Office of Lithuania  EWHC 2076 – Read judgment
We welcome this guest post by Michal Jorek
Will a court execute an extradition request if the prison conditions and treatment of prisoners in the requesting State are such that detention there would constitute torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment?
This question was recently considered by the High Court in The Queen on the application of Arvdas Klimasv. Prosecutors General Office of Lithuania. Although the Court was clear in its pronouncement, it is arguable that aspects of its reasoning are at the very least questionable.
Despite the Leveson Report, the Daily Mail’s brief flirtation with the Human Rights Act has not even lasted a month. This article by Home Affairs Correspondent Jack Doyle (Twitter: @jackwdoyle) is a weird one, even by the Mail’s standards. Here is the headline:
£500,000 a week in legal aid for prisoners’ human rights claims: YOU pay for them to seek easier life or early release
Clear, right? We are apparently spending £26m per year on prisoners’ human rights claims. And here is the first line:
Taxpayers are handing nearly £500,000 a week in legal aid to prisoners to help them make human rights claims.
That’s sounds like a lot of money to spend on prisoners’ human rights claims! But wait, there’s more… Continue reading →
The European Commission has begun a consultation process to explore the impact of pre-trial detention in the European Union (EU). The particular focus, summarised in its Green Paper, is how pre-trial detention issues affect judicial co-operation generally within the EU.
In a famous advert from the 80s, Maureen Lipman picked up the phone to caution her distraught grandson that he could never be a failure if he had an “ology”. It was perhaps in memory of that fine advice that the Lord Chancellor appeared before the House of Commons Justice Select Committee on Wednesday morning. For the first time, the language of ideology was openly placed at the heart of the Government’s approach to the reform of legal aid.
Most of the legal profession is familiar with the controversy of the Government’s latest raft of suggestions for reform of legal aid, in the Transforming Legal Aidconsultation paper. JUSTICE and many others have raised substantial concerns about the Government’s approach. The changes proposed to the provision of criminal legal aid will drastically limit the ability of people accused of crimes by the State to access quality legal advice that they can trust. This will increase the likelihood of miscarriages of justice and may make the criminal justice system as a whole more expensive, and less fair, as more people attempt to represent themselves.
R (on the application of Gordon-Jones) v Secretary of State for Justice and Governor of HM Prison Send  EWHC 3997 (Admin) – read judgment
Contrary to what some media reports would have us believe, Prison Service Instruction (“PSI”) 30/2013 did not impose an absolute ban on books in prisons. It did, however, impose severe restrictions on the possession or acquisition of books which a prisoner can treat as his or her own. The High Court has found that those restrictions could not be justified by the limited provision of prison library services and are therefore unlawful.
The Claimant is a prisoner serving an indefinite sentence for the protection of the public at HMP Send. She has a doctorate in English literature and a serious passion for reading. The books she wants to read are often not the sort which are required by fellow prisoners or readily available through the prison library (the Dialogues of Marcus Aurelius and Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, for example, crop up in the judgment) and she therefore relies on having books sent or brought to her by people outside the prison.
Cossey, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 3029 (Admin) – read judgment
The High Court has dismissed an “absolutely meritless” claim by a prisoner that, in serving the non-tariff part of his sentence, he should be afforded all the Convention rights enjoyed by prisoners on remand or those serving time for civil offences such as contempt of court. As he had been deprived of the full panoply of rights, he said, he was a victim of discrimination contrary to Article 14.
This, said Mostyn J, was
The sort of claim that gives the Convention, incorporated into our domestic law by the Human Rights Act 1998, a bad name and which furnishes its critics with ammunition to shoot it down.
Were the key architect of the Convention, Lord Kilmuir, alive today, continued the judge, “he would be amazed to be told that a claim for violation of Article 14 was being advanced on the facts of this case.” Continue reading →
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.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.