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 126.

    Perhaps your friend shouldn't have been banged up 4 weeks prior to an election?

    Where are the prisoners going to vote? Do they get day release between 8.00 am and 10.00 p.m. to go to the polling stations or do they expect the taxpayer to have policed polling stations within the prison grounds?

    Good news for G4S probably, democracy no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    95. neil
    If UKIP were in charge,we wouldnt even be in EU,
    We would however still be in the European court of human rights which was formed in the aftermath of WW2 long before the EU existed (Winston Churchill signed us up to the European court BTW).

    Thanks for showing how ill informed UKIP votes are though. You don't even know what you're voting against.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    If you end somebody's life, then you should be in fear of losing your own. Not 30 years of being paid for by the taxpayer and being able to lobby for the right to vote?!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    In the whole scheme of things does this really matter?
    Would the votes of a few thousand people spread out over the country affect the outcome of an election?
    Would prospective candidates bother to visit the Prisons to get support?


    So who cares?

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Why should criminals be allowed to vote? They commit a crime against society and then want to have a say in how society works. If you want to be part of society then make sure that you are part of society and don't commit a crime!

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Is there a danger that an MP with a large prison in his/her constituency might lobby the inmates for votes, and perhaps make promises on the basis of this, thus giving the priosoners a disproportionate amount of influence?

    Although that would entail a politician keeping an election promise.

    Which is unlikely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    People who have committed major crimes e.g. murder, rape e.t.c. shouldn't be able to vote. I agree there.

    But not every criminal is so extreme. I think for lesser crimes they should have the right to vote and even be encouraged to do so. Teaching them how to engage with society in an effective manner will surely help to rehabilitate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Do these prisoners really care about having the right to vote? This case is just another cynical attack on the establishment which put them behind bars. I would bet that these murderers have never stepped into a ballot booth in their lives!

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Is it really possible that the two prisoners concerned were sitting in their cells when it occurred to them that they ought to have the right to vote? As they used to say in the detective films, who stands to benefit from these eye wateringly expensive legal cases ? Could it be Lawyers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Convicted criminals are excluded from jury service too. Be funny if ECHR ruled that illegal as well; it'd make for some interesting trials.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    I agree that those who have taken away the human rights of others should lose the right to vote.
    Leaving the ECHR would be a retrograde step.In the majority of cases it supports and reinforces the rights of us all.
    One of the tests for the Bedroom tax was whether removal of a bedroom affected the right to a family life.
    The ECHR protects all of us and I mistrust any Goverment wishing to leave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Good decision. Now make and enforce a ruling that prison should be a punishment, not a free ride of TV, leisure activities, and softly kid gloves treatment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Added to this I believe that after 3 criminal convictions, offenders should receive the maximum penalty for every offence they commit - plus a greatly reduced percentage of time off for good behaviour.

    Privileges should be hard to earn and have a higher threshold for reoffenders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    If you end somebody's life, I think your right to vote should automatically end. Period. No discussion. I'm a EU citizen and have been living in the UK for 13 years, working hard, paying taxes, abiding the law and cannot vote. Why should a murderer have more rights than me?

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Who pays for this action?another demand on Legal aid no doubt......
    They should be made to pay their own expenses on a blatent waste of time and effort casem

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Why should EU law have dominance over our own? If you break the law in this country, you're punished according to the laws of this country and the EU should keep their noses out.

    Human rights law has become a laughing stock. It's just used by criminals as an excuse to complain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    By stripping prisoners of their right to vote, they are, in effect, political prisoners. The state enjoys a monopoly over policing, justice and legislation and thus must act from a higher ground of moral principle, than seek justification from the weasel words of the law. The law is not a law of physics, it is a contrivance too often predicated on prejudice and political convenience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I wonder if the courts pointed out to the inmates that they had removed any chance of their victims to vote and enjoy life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Most people would agree that a convicted criminal will forfeit their social rights along with their freedom, including the right to vote. There has to be a moral dimension to prison.

    That said, there should be every avenue for prisoners to contest their sentence with legal aid if there are good grounds for wrongful conviction - for example, if new evidence comes up. We all know this happens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Seems to me that common sense would dictate that prisoners should at least be able to vote in elections, the results of which, will be in force on their release date. It should be part of the rehabilitive process.


Page 46 of 52


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