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 166.

    The ECHR has been abused for far too long and needs serious updating. I am very pleased by this ruling. Break the law and deal with the consequences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    They are in prison because they broke a law made by parliament. I think it is therefore a matter of principle that they should be allowed to vote for the parliament that makes the laws. It will make no difference, there are not enough prisoners to change an election outcome, but principles are important; they underpin society and removing them removes a vital check on the power of the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    This is absolutely outrageous. I never noticed that prisoners had lost their vote. Last I heard it was under discussion??? This is another step towards the dehumanising process of those less fortunate and more deprived than the elite classes. Britain is fast following US models for criminalisation and marginalization of citizens for profit and, as such, a retrograde 'civilization'. Shame on us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Please think and consider the merits of the case:

    • What would be the effect be of prisoners voting? Seems to me almost none.

    • How does universally taking away the right of prisoners to vote detract from justice? Seems to me it doesn't but it could affect progressive rehabilitation

    • Shouldn't we consider the tariff/term the prisoner has received and exclude whole lifers only?

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    The right to vote is a CIVIL right not a human one. These two forfeited their civil rights when they stepped outside of the law. Perhaps the review of the blanket ban is a good idea but you cannot allow criminals to influence what happens to society when they have not kept within the law themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    95.If UKIP were in charge,we wouldnt even be in EU,so this case would never have seen a court
    Forget prisoners, it's UKIP supporters who shouldn't be allowed to vote when they come out with ignorant comments like this.
    Repeat after me "The ECHR is not part of the EU".
    Why is this such a difficult to concept for so many?

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    The simple answer is for the government to set up a committee to rule on each individual in prison and decided if they can vote based on the seriousness of their crime.
    Prisoner #1: Crime: No paying your Council Tax. You can vote
    Prisoner #2: Crime: Raping and Murdering a seven year old girl. You can't vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Anyone who is found guilty of committing and crime and is subject to a custodial sentence loses all rights to be involved in the running of a democratic country. Sorry, if you can't do the time, and all that...!

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    At last some common sense ! prison is not a place where you have the life of Riley demanding this and that it's a punishment . There is a very simple guideline here , if you want all the benefits of freedom don't get involved in crime and prison .

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    And I wonder how much legal fees have been generated by this kerfuffle ?

    Oh yeah the taxpayer picks up the bill for these cons and their briefs yet again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    The ECHR needs to seriously look at what it considers to be human rights, and whether there should be any RESPONSIBILITIES that go hand in hand with those rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Bravo. The correct decision for once and at last by OUR courts. Now to be sure of whether us Brits want EU meddling we should hold that referendum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Good news. Now let's try to influence the rest of Europe to adopt the same, sensible, policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    And rightly so. What "rights" did the murderer's victims have? Are they to vote? No. Once you commit and crime and are found guilty, you lose all rights in my opinion.

    When the wonderful day comes that we leave the EU we can then ditch all of their "laws" they have imposed on us over the past 40 years and get out country back. No votes for prisoners. EVER.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Allowing all prisoners the right to vote once at local elections, once at national elections and once at EU elections will both satisfy the ECHR and remove the anomaly whereby a prisoner who starts a short sentence the day after an election does not lose the right to vote, while a prisoner who starts an identical sentence two days earlier loses the right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    It can only be a matter of time before prisoners demand private apartments for them and their families inside prison so they can can exercise their 'right to a private and family life' under Article 8.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Prisons should be on remote islands North of Britain where there there is no possibility of escape. Prisoners should be made to work on a "No work = minimum of (healthy) food)"

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Why is there a catch all term of ' prisoners ' ?

    The scum who raped and murdered his niece is not the same as someone who kills their abuser after years of torture.

    What's the point in prolonging his life ?

    Forget taking away his TV, if there is his DNA found inside the victims body as well as other conclusive proof that he did this, take away his existence..

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    "Prime Minister David Cameron said on Twitter that the ruling was "a great victory for common sense"."

    Any other ruling would have been bonkers - Ed Miliband probably doesn't agree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    i simply feel that people who take away other peoples human right should equally have there human right/s stripped. you cant deprive someone of a life or other crimes and using your human right as a defense. i feel the human rights act was meant to be a good thing however it is used by the wrong people!


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