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 146.

    I think it is entirely appropriate that murderers should be denied the right to vote. If we still had capital punishment they would not be able to vote as they would be dead. Fortunately for them society has moved on and they now get to live despite what they have done. The person they murdered had their right to vote taken away when they killed them so it is only right that they are excluded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Prisoners should have no rights at all.
    They shouldn't even be allowed to have a bed, let them sleep on the floor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Isn't it a bit dodgy if you cannot vote out of office those that can pass laws to imprison anyone who opposes them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Good. Now take away Sky, internet, mobiles, Gyms etc & turn Prisons back into Prisons, no 4 star hotels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    How much did this case cost us? Who paid their legal costs? I'll assume it came out of the public purse?

    Why can Prisoners spend Public Money to try and change laws?

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    "UK inmates lose right to vote ruling" What an utter farce...!

    When convicted you should expect to lose the right to vote just like losing the right to 'walk the Streets' when inside doing your time.

    It's time jail meant jail and not 5 start hotel status, same for the Early release scheme that always seem to fail badly.

    All because of over crowding, lack of prisons and government cut backs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    [ ] The devil you know that starts wars and rewards the rich.
    [ ] The devil you kicked out last time for starting wars and rewarding the rich
    [ ] Single Policy Party grabbing headlines
    [ ] Some other people that you've never heard of.

    God forbid we ever let a prisoner have a say on these important issues.
    Who knows what is next posthumous voting or something, I don't know. Outrageous nonetheless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Great News!

    Well done Theresa May for another blow against the madness of the EU / ECHR

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    It seems that almost 2,500 prisoners are wealthy enough to afford lawyers despite being locked up and having no job.

    Or could it be that they are getting legal aid? I wonder what gravy train the lawyers will jump on next?

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    @111 The_Other_James

    Human Rights are not just used by criminals they are also used by people with genuine rights issues, the fact that some people abuse this system does not mean that for example the 'right to a fair trial' should be forgotten.

    Lets not forget the Supreme Court have got this one right and protected the correct balance of 'rights' and 'responsibilities'

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Who exactly has 'lost their human rights' in cases of TV licence or council tax evasion? What about something like possession of cannabis?

    This applies to EVERYONE in prison, not just murderers and rapists.

    It scares me how vindictive people get about anything related to prison, I get the feeling they'd rather just gas the lot of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    I agree that murderers, rapists, armed robbers etc should loose their vote - but all prisoners across the board?

    What about those who get locked up for debatable offences that in the views of many don't merit a prison term?

    e.g. The naked rambler? Does anybody other than the courts have a problem with him?

    That guy who swam in the Oxbridge race last year - is he really a danger to the public?

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Did the perpetrators consider the rights of their victims? I think not. Why should such people have such rights when they don't respect the rights of others?

    Respect is a two way street and if the EHCR can't see that then they are an ever bigger bunch of idiots than I thought!

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    @89 yep you are from another planet,what makes you think an animal like him should be given any rights,he destroyed his family as a result of his crime,you must have come from the same insane sympathiser mould as michael foot

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Prisoners voting - or letting the loonies run the asylum as it is otherwise known. For goodness sake! I mean really, if they had won this then the next thing would be to make them pillars of the Church or social workers or child-minders. A tick in the box for the Supreme Court on this occasion. For once.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    The British law is absurd. Why should people in prison, many of whom are being kept there expensively and unnecessarily, not be entitled to vote? Laws change as a result of voting. What was a crime can be no longer and what was legal can become illegal. Look at homosexuality for example. EU law has it right. Or why not exclude anyone with tax arrears or non property owners from voting also!

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    If you take away the human right of someone to vote then you should lose your vote. Simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    But you can go to jail and still remain a member of the house of Lords or Parliament? Weirdo's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    These guys were removed from society when they went to jail. Why should they be allowed to influence it? The right decision, in my opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    A lot of fuss about nothing. How many prisoners would vote, even if they were allowed to, anyway? A handful, I should imagine, and being largely uneducated and easily lead, they would probably vote UKIP anyway.


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