The European Courts of Human Rights has declared the UK has breached prisoners’ rights after ruling that they should not be stripped of their right to vote. However, the ten prisoners involved in bringing the case to court will not receive compensation as they had hoped due to courts declaring the ruling as sufficient.
Shunning EU laws
The prisoners from Scotland brought their case to the European courts stating that as they were not permitted to vote in the 2009 European elections, their human rights had been breached. This is not the first time the UK has been criticised for shunning laws set out by the European courts and the courts insist that the UK must allow some prisoners to vote. Both the labour party and the current coalition are guilty of failing to follow guidelines from Strasbourg by issuing a blanket ban on all inmates and their right to vote.
The prisoners had hoped to be awarded compensation as a result of the ruling, but the courts stated that they have always been reluctant to award damages to convicted criminals. In a statement issued after the ruling, the courts said, “As in those cases, in the present case the court concludes that the finding of a violation constitutes sufficient just satisfaction for any non-pecuniary damage sustained by the applicants.”
Despite agreeing to abide by the EU law, the UK has, to date, failed to comply with rulings that give prisoners the right to vote. Many MPs wish to open discussions regarding voting and inmates, suggesting that those serving less than a year in prison should be given the right to vote should elections fall during their sentence. Members of a cross-party committee of MPs believe voting rights should “not be removed without good reason”.
However, the group do think those guilty of “heinous crimes” should not be allowed to vote. Committee member Conservative MP Crispin Blunt alludes to an “attitude of revenge and punishment” as the reason for the blanket ban, and calls for a “more constructive response of rehabilitation and restoration.”
The UK is a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights and is expected to follow all associated rulings and regulations. In an act of defiance against what many MPs see as an encroachment on domestic matters, Ministers state they are reluctant to comply with the European Court’s 2004 ruling regarding prisoners’ rights, and will therefore do the minimum required.
MPs have submitted suggestions to tackle the issue, including allowing prisoners serving less than a year to vote, and permitting those with terms over 12 months to apply up for the right to vote up to six months before the date of their release. If these suggestions were to be followed, it is estimated that 7000 prisoners in the UK would receive the right to vote.
Encroaching on domestic matters
All members of the cross-party committee do not believe prisoners have the right to vote and are against the EU “meddling” with UK matters. Former schools minister, Nick Gibb said, “Parliament will need to consider whether it is right to extend the franchise to those denied their liberty and the right to engage in society as a result of serving a custodial sentence.
Parliament will also need to consider the extent to which it is content to permit the European Court of Human Rights to encroach on domestic policy areas that appear far removed from the original intentions of the drafters of the European Convention on Human Rights.” It is feared that other European countries will follow suit, opting to select and reject policies set out by the EU courts.
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