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 106.

    Thank god for common sense

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    We should have a referendum. Then ECHR can ponder over the dilemma over whether the right to democracy is more important than respecting the outcome of democracy. Should keep this story quiet for the next 25 years

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Europe is right on this one. The majority of people I speak to feel there is nobody they can vote for. It's a case of 'If you don't like this lot, then you have to vote for the other lot'. But what happens if both options are rotten? If a wealthy regime with 10% support decides to lock up anyone who shows dissent how does democracy function?

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I have a friend who got drunk, stole his wife's car, then crashed it. He rightly got a 4 week sentence for this act of stupidity. It was a short sharp shock and he'll never do it again.

    Should his voting rights be stopped too?

    A vote affects 5 years of your life, not 4 weeks. A vote affects your peers and family too, not just the criminal.

    Westminster has this one wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.


    The very principle of democracy is based on the fact that if something is wrong in your view, you can try to change it with your vote, legislation that unfairly put you in prison included!! Take this away and we're as good as the Taliban!!!

    Shame on you Britain for even thinking about it!

    PS: Also, if risking a life sentence won't stop a criminal, nor loosing his vote it will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Why should prisoners be allowed to vote? They have broken the law, and it is one of their "rights" which is denied them. They should not have a say in the choice of government, any more than they should have a say in their release time. Change the name to Human Rights and Responsibilities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    The Leftie, hairy fairy, PC brigade are at fault for this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Prison life is too easy, they should go back to the days of a hard bed, no tv, and just bread and water for their food

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I live in Stockton South. We are a marginal constituency (the MP's majority is 330 approx!). We have a prison. Absolutely no way can an election outcome be determined by a body of yet-to-be-reformed criminals. It would be totally not right for a candidate to have to go electioneering in a prison!

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    36. Sick to death of these idiots in Brussels dictating what we should and shouldnt do.
    The ECHR has nothing to do with the EU. It's a separate body, covered by separate conventions. It's in Strasbourg, NOT Brussels. Are you confusing with the ECJ?
    To leave ECHR would require leaving the Council of Europe, and so also the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines. Bad idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Since all you can do is vote in the people you voted to kick out, voting is pretty pointless anyway and it does not matter who can or cannot vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    If UKIP were in charge,we wouldnt even be in EU,so this case would never have seen a court,let alone wasting tens and hundreds of thousands defending our country against European laws!

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Prisoners have rights, not privileges.

    Voting is the latter. As are Xboxes, Playstations, TVs, Internet access, Film services, ice cream sundaes, etc...

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    I think the European court should shut up and stay out of our business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Thank God we do have some sensible Judges. You loose that 'Human Right' when you do the crime. At least Cameron can now wave 2 fingers at Europe and say 'No Chance'

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime" and in this country, everyone knows that time means losing your right to vote.
    The ECHR is all about the rights of the criminal never about the rights of the victims or the general law abiding public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    And what human rights are being breached here? Fundamental human rights are subjective at best and can be intepreted pretty much anyway someone wants. The right to Freedom can be argued to be breached for all prisoners, so we let them go. We allow Al Qaeda to continue as it breaches the right for their beliefs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Of course nobody has ever been convicted and had it overturned so we should just shoot them all and let god sort it out.

    That is what people want right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Prisons are full of people who cant pay their TV licence or their council tax so obviously they are the scum of the earth and should all be flogged failing that refuse them the RIGHT to vote

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    25. msa1701 wrote: Good - If you go to prison then you should lose all your rights.


    Actually, you do not have a protected, fundamental right to vote - and with Teresa May wanting to get out of the ECHR and rip up our human right act, you wont have many other rights either.

    You can vote because the government allows you to. As with prisoners, they could take that away from you....


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