Prisoner voting and the £160m question

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?

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Court of appeal rejects prisoner vote plea, government announces plans

Chester v Secretary of State for Justice & Anor [2010] EWCA Civ 1439 (17 December 2010) – Read judgment

The Court of Appeal has rejected a claim by a man convicted of raping and murdering a seven-year-old girl that the court should grant him the right to vote. Meanwhile, following the judgment the government has announced that it plans to allow all prisoners less than four years to vote.

Mr Chester’s case is interesting from a constitutional perspective, although the decision is not too surprising, as I will explain. But it does highlight the complex and sometimes unsatisfactory manner in which human rights are protected in the UK.

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Europe sets deadline for UK to let prisoners vote, or else

Updated | Greens and M.T. v. the United Kingdom (application nos. 60041/08 & 60054/08) – Read judgment / press release (which the case summary below is based on)

The European Court of Human Rights is to give the UK a deadline of six months in order to allow prisoners to vote in elections, or it could face significant consequences.

The warning came by way of the judgment in a new case concerning the continued failure to amend the legislation imposing a blanket ban on voting in national and European elections for convicted prisoners in detention in the United Kingdom. The court, following its own five-year-old decision in Hirst No . 2, found a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections) to the European Convention on Human Rights but no violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the Convention.

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Prisoners to vote in next general election, end of 5 year wait since Euro decision

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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