Votes for prisoners: Cameron says UK will fight European Court


Cameron: 'I believe this is a matter for Parliament to decide, not a foreign court'

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The prime minister has told MPs he will resist a European court ruling that prisoners should be given the right to vote in UK elections.

David Cameron said the ban on voting from jail "should be a matter for Parliament... and not a foreign court".

Labour has said it will back the prime minister's stance.

But Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams said prisoners serving short sentences should be allowed to vote as part of their rehabilitation.

Earlier this week the European Court of Human Rights gave the UK six months to outline how it proposes to change the law on prisoner votes.

Asked by DUP leader Nigel Dodds to promise that he would not "succumb to the diktat from the European Court of Human Rights", Mr Cameron said: "Well, the short answer to that is yes."

'Stand together'

The Strasbourg court has ruled that it is up to national authorities to decide which prisoners should be denied the right to vote from jail but said that a blanket ban is illegal.

Labour shadow minister Andy Burnham told the BBC's Daily Politics his party would back the government if it were to challenge the ECHR's decision.

He told the programme: "The court has crossed a line with this one and we need to take a stand genuinely. It's an unacceptable intrusion into domestic policy in my view...

"I do think there is an important issue of principle here and we should together send a very clear message back to Strasbourg."

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron said he had always believed that those who are sent to prison "should lose certain rights", including the right to vote, adding: "Parliament has made its decision and I completely agree with it."

But while backbench Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams, a member of the constitutional reform select committee, said the issue wasn't a "coalition breaker" he said the British government should respect the European court's decision.

"I think you need to rehabilitate prisoners, and maintaining links with society - such as the right to vote - is an important part of that process," he said, but added anyone serving a long sentence for "rape, murder or terrorism" should be barred from taking part in elections.

Mr Williams warned that prisoners could take out compensation claims against the UK if the government sticks with the ban.

The European Court this week ruled that denying Franco Scoppola, a convicted murderer in Italy, the right to vote did not breach his human rights. But judges insisted this was because there is no "general, automatic, indiscriminate" ban in place - as there is in the UK.

At present, the only prisoners allowed to vote in Britain are those on remand.

In 2005, the ECHR, which is not an institution of the European Union, ruled the ban unlawful.

And in 2010, the Council of Europe, which enforces the court's decrees, urged the coalition government to rectify the situation.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    The idea of prison is to deprive a criminal of freedom which would otherwise be their right, so why should they retain the right to vote? I understand the argument is that giving a prisoner a vote helps to reduce their alienation from society. On this basis only long term prisoners being prepared for release should be given a vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    I think in a democracy everybody - even prisoners - should be allowed to vote. What harm can it do? I think it is more harmfull for the image of democracy if parts of the population are denied this right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I fully support DC on this one. We corden off these people from society, so they should have no right to indulge in the *benefits* that come with this. No votes until they've served their sentence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    People in prison have broken community laws passed by an elected Parliament. Having broken those laws they should have no rights to vote until released from prison. This has nothing to do with the EU who should be, quite rightly, be told to stop interfering in our society by our Prime Minister.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    A perfectly reasonable ruling from the European Court, misrepresented as usual by our silly media and politicians.

    Of course a blanket ban is unjust.

    Someone who is in prison for,say, non-payment of a fine relating to a minor offence, because they have no money, surely deserves their case to be considered at least?

    At present there is no means for this to happen.


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