Wednesday 13 December 2017

European court upholds right of countries to ban prisoners from voting

Britain is the only Western EU member state to have blanket ban on prisoners voting
Britain is the only Western EU member state to have blanket ban on prisoners voting

Matthew Holehouse

Prisoners can be barred from voting, Europe’s top court has ruled.

The European Court of Justice ruled that a lifetime voting ban imposed by the French government on a convicted murderer was “proportionate”.

It said that it is “possible” for prisoners convicted of “serious crimes” to be denied the ballot in European elections.

“The court concludes that it is possible to maintain a ban which, by operation of law, precludes persons convicted of a serious crime from voting in elections to the European parliament,” the ruling read.  

Under the French system, prisoners serving a sentence of more than five years are banned from taking part in European elections.

The ruling, which presented an unexpected verdict from the European Court of Justice, means the law can continue to be upheld in Britain and other states.

The historic verdict comes a decade after the European Court of Human Rights ruled the voting ban on British prisoner John Hirst was unlawful. 

In Western Europe, Britain is the only country which imposes a blanket ban on prison voting.

Within the Council of Europe, Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary and Russia impose similar bans.

Some campaigners say prisoners in the UK face a “civil death” due to their disenfranchisement.

Lawyers for the British, French and Spanish governments argued that the ECJ had no right to rule over prisoner voting.

The national rules "falls outside the scope of EU law", they argued.

Speaking shortly before the judgment was announced, David Cameron insisted that he was determined maintain Britain's blanket ban on prisoner voting, whatever the outcome of the case.

"I haven't changed my view at all," he told LBC radio."Our own law has been tested recently and our Supreme Court opined that our law was right and prisoners shouldn't have the vote, and that's my view.

"I'm very clear prisoners shouldn't get the vote and it's a matter for the British Parliament.

The British Parliament has spoken and the Supreme Court in Britain has spoken so I'm content to leave it there."

Mr Cameron has said the issue of prisoner voting makes him “physically sick” and has threatened to quit the European Court of Human Rights – a body entirely separate to the EU – over the issue.

Natasha Bertaud, a European Commission spokeswoman said: “According to today's ruling, Member States can choose whether or not to impose voting bans on persons convicted for criminal offenses, but they have to make sure that any measures they take are proportionate, which is common sense.

“The lifetime ban – in this case for a former prisoner, after he left prison – was considered as proportionate, taking into account the nature and gravity of the criminal offence committed.

“The Court also noted that there was a possibility to apply for reinstatement of the voting rights. This judgement applies specifically to European elections, not national elections."

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