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 66.

    This is very simple for the UK government. Give prisoners the vote but do not allow them to vote by proxy, or postal vote. They have to attend the polling station. DO NOT LET THEM OUT OF PRISON TO VOTE SIMPLES !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Thr minute anyone commits a serious crime, such as murder, rape, burglary &c, their voting rights should be lifted immediately. They have made the statement that they are not responsible members of society & not fit to have the vote. If you show disrespect for others, as in China & Russia, you should not be allowed to vote. These people are as irresponsible as the liberals who back their rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    A custodial sentence is a loss of liberty, someone who commits an act of coercion (crime) have foregone their rights to the social contract and should be treated as such.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    #37: as these prisoners have taken away all human rights by murdering their victims and subjecting their families to a life time of grief, I think that negates any right they have to "human rights". These men are animals and I think their time in prison should be hell not the luxury of free medical, dental care, games, training that it is.
    People like you should have a more thought for victims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Going to jail is a removal of rights as a punishment. Voting is just one of them. Want to vote for all the pointless use it is these days then do not commit the crime.

    We will have to wait and see, we do not get to decide our laws these days, some bunch of Europeans can dictate to us at will. So doubtless there will be more appealing to Europe, and lawyer fat pay out of legal aid tax payer money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    @10 Maybe it should be used to compensate the prisoner's victims. Remember them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    49. niall_g

    it's nothing to do with the EU. The original ruling came from the European Court of Human Rights which is part of the Council of Europe which in turn is completely separate from the EU. Why does this have to be repeatedly explained every time there is a ruling from the ECHR?

    Because the anti Eu lobby are stupid. Thats why they vote UKIP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Prisoners are already entitled to far more "rights" than they ever accorded innocent victims, their families and friends. Our obsessive liberal society blackmails the silent majority into accepting that rehabilitation is always preferable to deterrent punishment. I don't agree that is always so. There are victims of greed driven capitalism in modern society whose life styles are much worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    These prisoners should realize that there is a huge groundswell of public opinion for the death penalty for murder, terrorism and other serious offenses. It's fair to say that once prisoners have served their term and proved that they have been rehabilitated then they can become full citizens again. The possibility that some prisoners may have been wrongly convicted is a separate issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Well if the unthinkable happens and Labour get back in they'll have to deal with it, and it will serve them right for selling us out to Europe and causing this mess in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Victory for common sense but I doubt many prisoners lose sleep over not being able to vote and even fewer will see it as a "punishment"

    "Can we also ban stupid people from voting? The SNP would be wiped out overnight"

    But then we would be left with the loonies that vote Labour and tories!

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    How much did it cost us?

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    That's a fair rruling, I suppose. After all: why should crooks be given the chance to decide which other crooks are running the country?

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Where does this scum get the money to afford representation given they are clearly not working? Why the hell do they any "rights" at all, when they did not give a fig about their victim?
    At least this decision was right for once.
    Lifers in particular should have no right to vote or wealth or any thing else they deprived their victim of.
    When will prison be made in to a deterrent?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    This is a pointless debate.

    Even if prisoners were allowed to vote under EU directive, the UK could just place the nearest voting station outside of the prison walls.

    “Oh look, you’re allowed to vote, but you’re not allowed to walk through that gate to get to the poll station. Boo hoo.”

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    perhaps if prisoners were given the vote, it would encourage those who don't already use their vote to actually use it.

  • Comment number 50.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    7. it's nothing to do with the EU. The original ruling came from the European Court of Human Rights which is part of the Council of Europe which in turn is completely separate from the EU. Why does this have to be repeatedly explained every time there is a ruling from the ECHR?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    What is remarkable about this judgement is not that it dismissed these convict's frivolous appeal, but that it shines like a beacon of common sense in a dark sea of stupifying, out of touch, politically correct judgements we have come to expect in recent times. No doubt the precious will whinge but it is a victory for common sense & justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Correct decision but the ECHR will no doubt over turn this? British Bill of Rights needed & leave ECHR .


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