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 1026.

    There is nothing stopping it be at the discretion of the sentencing judge or based on length of sentence"

    The government seems to object to the types of systems elsewhere on the grounds they end up being arbitrary, discretionary or some other unfairness that would cause parliament to object. Another example of the "perfect being the enemy of the good".

  • rate this

    Comment number 1025.

    You can tell the Daily Mailers are out in force when a comment purely statinf a fact (such as mine at 1005) is voted down, merely because that particular fact does not fit in with their world view

  • rate this

    Comment number 1024.

    1016.Jettison the Jinxed UK Junta
    I know for certain now who I'm voting for, 19 months before the Election. It isn't any of the Big 3 Stoogies
    That does NOT answer my question: If all options of parties are of equal dismerit, then what does the voter you compel to vote do? Does he just vote randomly & not as they truly believe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1023.

    1016 - Answer the question or is your supporting argument based on sneering and smart mouthed replies. Or do you want the electorate to seek court with the candidates to save them the bother of actually campaigning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1022.

    Despite the efforts of successive governments, we are not yet a third world country and don't need to subscribe to the diktats of the undemocratic ECHR. I find it incomprehensible that we should be expected to give murderers, rapists, terrorists etc. the right to vote. Time to withdraw from the ECHR, and the EU while we're at it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1021.

    984. Alan M Bush
    "There should no single Human Right that trumps the right of the Community at large"

    There aren't any, and most rights are subject to a test to ensure that the rights of the wider community are not infringed.

    "I believe in Civil Rights which give all Citizens of the Community - not individuals..."

    What's the distinction between a 'citizen' and an 'individual'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1020.

    1001 Dilligafs
    Australia has compulsory voting. There are at least two ways around the problem of not being able to pick anyone. 1) The ballot paper should provide a "None of the above" option. 2) Spoil your ballot paper - twice at least I have written "A pox on all your parties" across mine, folded it neatly and popped it in the box.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1019.

    Maybe as part of sentencing a judge or jury should decide if a particular criminal or crime is allowed to have beneficial human rights. This would make it fairer and make people reflect more on the severity of the crime

  • rate this

    Comment number 1018.

    dont see the issue. id happily advise prisoners they have the right to vote.

    id also happily tell them that unfortunately for being a criminal, you are going to be banged up and unable to make it to your polling you indeed have that right, but not the capability.

  • Comment number 1017.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1016.

    It sound more like you're too lazy to find the facts for yourself.
    Do you need someone to make-up your mind for you?

    1004 Mayna
    I know for certain now who I'm voting for, 19 months before the Election. It isn't any of the Big 3 Stoogies ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1015.

    1003 Anglerfish

    My personal favourite, Human Right farce was the one where the guy could not be deported because his of his cat ! I thought I dreamt that to be honest but nooooo it is correct. That's the way to protect people from abuse of the state eh ? you remind me of the old say you know defending the un-defendable still carry on just love to seen the longfordesk cringe

  • rate this

    Comment number 1014.

    Both this government and the last have made a mountain out of a molehill. All the ECHR objects to is a blanket ban. There is nothing stopping it be at the discretion of the sentencing judge or based on length of sentence.

    Most of the other 47 countries (including the EU) seem to manage without the world ending. Its just bored prisoners playing a game. I doubt many would bother to vote anyway

  • rate this

    Comment number 1013.

    Do France and Germany's murderers and rapists have the vote?"

    No. In France the decision on voting is made by the judge (I believe) something our government doesn't wish to do.

    "Perhaps their criminal lawyers have more integrity"

    Yet French lawyers win more judgements (74%) at the ECtHR than UK lawyers (60%). If the problem is with our lawyers that's not a good reason to leave the ECHR.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1012.

    Editors Pick - 130.steelliott 'If you take away the human right of someone to vote then you should lose your vote. Simple.'

    'On this occassion though these people took away other peoples 'rights' to vote by murdering them so really they should now lose theirs wouldn't you say?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1011.

    Please read verse Isaiah 45:7. “I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I the lord do all these things”. The Christian God outright claims that he is indeed the source of evil. So how can he then claim to be sinless?

    A perfectly just God who sentences his imperfect creation to infinite punishment for finite sins is impossible as a cubic sphere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1010.

    It would be interesting to know the percentage of Prisoners who would actually vote if not in prison.
    Any suggestions ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 1009.

    Just think: if you put all the tax evaders in prison it might hurt the tory vote...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1008.

    This is really bad. I don't see why anyone in a democratic society should be refused the right to vote. Are we really a police state where human rights are taken away from individuals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1007.

    907. KM
    I think you miss the point - for the record I'm aware of the separate entities of Europe.

    They are yet to appeal to the ECtHR.

    993. QE
    Do France and Germany's murderers and rapists have the vote?


    Several countries in Europe allow prisoners to vote including Germany. France and a few others have restricted rights. UK, Ireland and a few others have a ban on votes for prisoners.


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