UK inmates lose right to vote ruling

Peter Chester (pic: Blackpool Gazette) and George McGeoch Chester and McGeoch are both serving life sentences for murder

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The Supreme Court has dismissed appeals from two prisoners over the right to vote under European Union rules.

Convicted murderers Peter Chester and George McGeoch had argued that EU law gave them a right to vote - even though they cannot under British law.

Prime Minister David Cameron told the Commons that the ruling was "a great victory for common sense".

The European Court of Human Rights has previously told the UK to end the blanket ban on prisoners voting.

Parliament is considering legislation, but has not yet decided what to do.

Lord Mance: "The Supreme Court unanimously dismisses both appeals"

Following the Supreme Court's judgement, the BBC's legal correspondent Clive Coleman said: "Critically it ruled that EU law did not provide an individual right to vote, paralleling that recognised by the ECHR. Eligibility under EU law is a matter for national parliaments."

Convicted prisoners in the UK are banned from voting on the basis that they have forfeited that right by breaking the law and going to jail.

Successive governments have wanted to maintain that position but the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said a blanket ban on prisoners voting was disproportionate.


Following a case in 2005 brought in the European Court of Human Rights by a British prisoner, it is now pretty well established that the UK's blanket ban on prisoners voting is in breach of European human rights law.

The government has accepted that, but human rights law allows a lengthy time period for responses to judgements, and any change to UK law is unlikely to happen any time soon.

The reason for that, is that if such a challenge succeeds domestically, it can result in a "declaration of incompatibility" i.e. the law being challenged is incompatible with a human right under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). If a challenge succeeds in Strasbourg, domestic law can be found to be a disproportionate restriction of the particular right.

Governments are given time to respond, and that can be dragged out for many years - as it has been in the case of prisoner votes.

It is difficult to get governments to act on the judgements of the ECHR if they do not want to do so.

Peter Chester raped and strangled his niece in Blackpool in 1977 and was jailed for life for her murder. He has served his minimum term but the Parole Board has refused to release him because it says he is too dangerous.

In 2008, he tried to join the electoral roll so that he could vote in the elections for the European Parliament. The Ministry of Justice said he could not until the law was changed.

In the second case, George McGeoch, serving life in a Scottish prison, argued that EU law allowed him to vote in local and European elections.

Although the ECHR has already told the UK to change the law, these two cases focused on whether prisoners as EU citizens have a right to vote even if Westminster says differently.

Last year, the government conceded that it would have to change the law to allow some prisoners to vote.

Ministers have published a draft bill which is being considered by Parliament. The proposals include limiting the vote to inmates who are serving either less than six months or four years.

A further 2,352 inmates have tried to bring voting cases to the European Court of Human Rights. Those applications are adjourned while judges wait to see what Westminster does.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Why not use voting rights as part of the rehabilitation plan. After the majority of a sentence is served and on condition of good behavior you are awarded the vote in order to create some degree of engagement with the outside world, it could lead to less re offending.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    I think this is a good step in the right direction, they deserve nothing.

    But the government needs to realise that prisons at the moment do not deter people - they have a 5* hotel inside, a hell of a lot better than what they have outside in society.

    I think cutting luxury prison lifestyle would save them a hell of a lot of money!

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    So will the ECHR have to intervene as we are breaking laws we signed up to as regards prisoners voting?

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    IMO, giving/withdrawing the right to vote for prisoners would not really sway political life in the UK one way or the other. However, to see these people insist on their 'Human rights', when they very blatantly took away these very rights from other people, is just sickening. Right decision after all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    How is taking someone's vote away a punishment? Most couldn't care less about it.

    Everyone should be entitled to vote, it's the cornerstone of a democracy.

    Let's be more creative about punishing prisoners instead - why not ban all meat in prisons? Healthier and cheaper on the taxpayer, and it annoys the prisoners!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    I am not a big fan of democracy to start with but if anything we should be introducing a rudimentary exam before people can vote. Prisoners should lose their right to vote, and in fact to ever stand for office, which would have obviously disqualified many politicians in the past, not least Mandela who lest we forget did cause the deaths of many. It would also mean certain NI ministers would be out

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    No Human Rights without Responsibilities: if we have to kowtow to ECHR rulings, let's make sure the law we pass includes explicit individual legal responsibilities that we would expect of our citizens in return for the rights that they expect of their state and the EU. Fair's fair!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Bankers and nom-doms should also be refused the right to vote as they are also criminals

  • Comment number 78.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    #60 good im glad people get it mixed up the sooner we get UKIP in the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    the people they murdered cant vote anymore so why should these scumbags.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    A good result.
    Prisoners cannot stick fingers up to society and expect a thumbs up in return.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    20. Rotherham Lad
    We have had criminals in Westminster, so - Hey! why not let murderers and rapists vote....

    The country has gone mad!
    All except the country HASN'T gone bad. If you read the story rather than just ranting you'd see the courts have specifically ruled NOT to give killers the vote. Its an unusual bit of sanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    37. I agree Mr Chester is just misunderstood.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    It appears to me that as the vast majority of prisoners have already put themselves beyond the protection of the law, they have more rights than most of the victims of their crimes. This surely cannot be right can it? The reason people are sent to prison is to protect society, & allowing convicts to vote makes a mockery of the système! Prisons should be prisons, NOT a place to be pampered!

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    @37, you must be a troll,bet you you wouldn't be singing the virtues of hr if the crime had been committed against you or your family, the justice system has been too soft for too long on many matters,this is just a tiny shift in the right direction, next remove tv's etc from the offenders,if you cant do the time dont do the crime,simple

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    A vindication for the Human Rights Act.

    It is now time for the Courts to actually interpret the HRA properly. It should be used as a protection for ordinary people against poorly thought legislation and abuses by businesses and the government, including its departments and local authorities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    they have no right to vote, they lost that when they done the crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    @22 - This does affect all of us. As it establishs a precedent that the UK government sitting in Westminster that has been vote for by the people of the UK, can tell the European parliment, which not one of us in the UK had a vote on joining, to get stuffed. I wish it was on a more wide ranging issue but it is important issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    No one is suggesting such folk are Not Human beings.

    I would suggest that such things a Murder & Rape are not consistent with any reasonable definition of a democratic process. Therefore it is reasonable to exclude such folk from that process until sentence has been served.


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