It has been widely reported that Theresa May will stay on as Prime Minister following the election on June 8th. The Conservative PM will seek to form a government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (the DUP).
A recent Round-Up by Poppy Rimington-Pounder highlighted some welcome changes in the parties’ approaches to human rights in the pre-election manifestos. With the recent shift in political climate it seems that changes may be on the horizon.
What does the election result mean for human rights?
Erlam et al v. Rahman et al, Richard Mawrey QC, April 2015, judgment here
The Guardian has reported that Lutfur Rahman, the former directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets is “exploring the possibility” of judicially reviewing the judgment of the Election Commissioner, Richard Mawrey QC declaring his 2014 election void and barring him from standing in the mandated repeat of the poll.
I posted last week on the decision of the High Court to uphold the decision of an election court in declaring void the election of Phil Woolas to a seat in Parliament.
The case was of interest from a constitutional standpoint, as it clarified the precise role of the High Court in relation to election court decisions, and in particular whether it could review decisions of the election court in cases where it appeared that judges got the law wrong. The answer is that it can, and as such the courts have in effect expanded their own role in elections. The result is that in future there may be protracted court battles following disputed election results, with election court decisions potentially reaching the Supreme Court.
The Election Court has ruled that the Labour MP for Oldham knowingly and deliberately misled the constituency and as a result his election is void under Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act (1983). Permission for judicial review of the decision has been refused.
The provision of the 1983 Act makes it an offence for anyone to publish “any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct” to prevent them being elected “unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true”. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
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.
The University of Salford have informed us that they will be hosting the first post-election Human Rights conference, which aims to address these issues. The Conference also coincides Human Rights Act 1998’s tenth birthday.
The Conference is ‘Ten years on’: A Multi-perspective Evaluation of the Human Rights Act – Salford Human Rights Conference 2010″, at the University of Salford on Friday and Saturday 4-5 June 2010. Full details can be found here and a list of speakers here.
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.
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