European court says UK ban on prisoners voting ‘breaches their human rights’ – but won’t grant them compensation

Judges nonetheless acknowledged the Government had made progress on issue

Britain’s blanket ban denying all prisoners the vote is a breach of human rights, European judges have ruled – but those jailed will not receive any costs or compensation.

It is a ruling that saves the Government from the prospect of having to make pay-outs in hundreds of similar cases before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

But in the case concerning 10 prisoners who were not allowed to vote in elections to the European Parliament on 4 June, 2009, the ECHR said there was a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a free election.

Britain has previously been warned by European judges that banning all prisoners from voting, regardless of the length of their sentences, was deemed a breach.

But US ministers have previously said that the issue is one which will be addressed within this country.

Responding to today’s judgment, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The Government has always been clear that it believes prisoner voting is an issue that should ultimately be decided in the UK.”

In 2005, the ECHR in Strasbourg ruled that the UK's ban on prisoners voting was unlawful following a claim made by convicted killer John Hirst. In 2011 MPs voted by an overwhelming majority to uphold the ban, despite that ruling.

But today the ECHR recognised the efforts of the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, who published a draft bill in 2012 on the matter and set up the Joint Committee on Prisoner Voting Rights.

The committee suggested that the bill grant the vote in local, general and European elections to those serving less than 12 months or within six months of release, with exceptions for those convicted of particularly serious crimes.

The Ministry of Justice said: “The Government is reflecting on the report from the Joint Committee on Prisoner Voting Rights and is actively considering its recommendations.

“This is not a straightforward issue and the Government needs to think carefully about the recommendations, which included new options for implementation.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “This judgment reinforces the need to implement recommendations on enfranchisement made by the Joint Committee on Prisoners Voting.

“The UK Government cannot continue to flout human rights law by preventing people in prison from behaving responsibly by voting in free elections.”

Isabella Sankey, Liberty's policy director, said: “While some Conservatives play cheap politics with Churchill's human rights legacy, the court urges the Government to listen to its own cross-party parliamentary committee and remove the blanket ban on prisoner voting.

“Despite a violation of almost 10 years, the court has shown patience and respect for parliamentary sovereignty - even now declining to award damages or costs.”

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