Prisoner voting ruling - commentary

The Scottish Human Rights Commission has noted the decision by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights today in Scoppola v. Italy (no 3). 

The UK was required to introduce legislation to enable prisoners to vote by a previous decision of the Grand Chamber in Greens and MT v UK. This case followed Hirst (no 2) v UK) where the Court initially called on the UK to take action on prisoner voting rights. However in November 2011 Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC appeared in person at the Court to intervene in Scoppola v. Italy (no. 3), and the UK was granted an extension of time to enact a legislative solution to prisoner voting rights until the end of the Scoppola case, which was decided today. The UK now has six months to introduce legislation.

Chair of the Commission Professor Alan Miller commented today:

“Today’s decision of the Grand Chamber leaves no doubt that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner voting breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgment does not create an overnight change, giving prisoners in the UK the vote. Rather it provides guidance on how the UK can meet its legal obligations to ensure restrictions on the right to vote are proportionate. A move away from a blanket ban on prisoner voting would bring the UK into line the overwhelming majority of other European countries, and many others around the world. The only countries where all convicted prisoners serving prison sentences of the right to vote are disenfranchised are the UK, Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, and Russia.

“As recognised by the UK Government at the recent Brighton Conference on the future of the European Court the key to the effective functioning of the European Court is national implementation of the Convention and execution of judgements. The UK now has to put this principle into practice. The UK Government has the obligation to introduce and Parliament the responsibility to enact legislation which will allow the UK to meet its legal obligations.

“It is to be hoped that the UK will act, as it has urged other countries to do, by applying the European Convention domestically. MPs have a responsibility to enact a fair system which clearly outlines when restrictions on the right to vote can be considered – the system must be proportionate to the offence and sentencing. This may, for example include determining categories of offences considered sufficiently serious to invite the courts to consider restricting the right to vote. Judges will then need to consider the individual’s right to vote as they come before them for sentencing.”

The full judgment from the European Court of Human Rights is online here.