Thursday 28 March 2013

UK Prisoner Voting Rights Update

The continuing saga of voting rights for prisoners in the United Kingdom now includes a new episode. This week the Court decided (in an unpublished decision) to adjourn the consideration of over 2,500 prisoner voting rights cases until at the latest September 2013. The reasoning behind this is to give the Committee of Ministers time to supervise the implementation of the Court's judgments on the mater, now that the UK Government has introduced a draft bill with several options in November last year. This is the full text of the press release:

The European Court of Human Rights has decided to adjourn its consideration of 2,354 applications against the United Kingdom concerning prisoners’ right to vote pending before it.

In its first judgment against the United Kingdom regarding prisoners’ right to vote, Hirst v. the United Kingdom (no. 2) (74025/01) of 6 October 2005, the Grand Chamber of the Court found that a blanket ban preventing all convicted prisoners from voting, irrespective of the nature or gravity of their offences, constituted a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections) to the European Convention on Human Rights. It did not give any detailed guidance as to the steps which the United Kingdom should take to make its law compatible with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, emphasising that there were numerous ways of organising and running electoral systems and that it was for each Member State of the Council of Europe to decide on its own rules. In its Chamber judgment in Greens and M.T. v. the United Kingdom (60041/08 and 60054/08) of 23 November 2010, the Court again found a violation of the right to free elections, as the
Government of the United Kingdom had failed to amend the blanket ban legislation. The Court held that the Government should bring forward legislative proposals to amend the law and to enact the legislation within a time-frame decided by the Committee of Ministers, the executive arm of the Council of Europe, which supervises the implementation of the Court’s judgments. The Government were granted an extension of time pending proceedings before the Court’s Grand Chamber in an Italian case concerning prisoners’ right to vote (Scoppola v. Italy (No. 3) (126/05), Grand Chamber judgment of 22 May 2012).

The Committee of Ministers has been following the UK Government’s progress in complying with the Court’s rulings. On 22 November 2012, the Government published a draft bill on prisoners’ voting eligibility. The draft bill includes three proposals: (1) ban from voting those sentenced to four years’ imprisonment or more; (2) ban from voting those sentenced to more than six months; or (3) ban from voting all prisoners (i.e. maintain the status quo). The Committee of Ministers is overseeing the progress of this draft bill. It has decided to resume consideration of the cases Hirst (no. 2) and Greens and M.T. at the latest at its September 2013 meeting.

In view of the Committee of Ministers’ decision, the Court decided to adjourn its consideration of the pending applications against the United Kingdom concerning prisoners’ right to vote until, at the latest, 30 September 2013. In the meantime, it has invited the Committee of Ministers to keep it regularly informed of progress.