Scottish independence: Killers fail to get referendum vote

Scottish and UK flags
Image caption The two prisoners claimed they should be allowed to vote on Scotland's future

The UK Supreme Court has dismissed a bid to overturn the ban on convicted prisoners being able to vote in the Scottish independence referendum.

Two killers, serving life sentences, had launched an appeal having already had their case rejected by judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Leslie Moohan, 31, and 46-year-old Andrew Gillon claimed the voting ban infringes their human rights.

Supreme Court judges will issue their reasons for dismissing the case later.

The Scottish government welcomed the ruling.

A spokeswoman said: "This confirms that the approach taken in the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013 is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and European Union law, and that convicted prisoners currently serving a custodial sentence will not be able to vote in the referendum."

Lawyers acting for Moohan and Gillon argued the Scottish judges including the Lord President, Lord Gill, were wrong when they ruled the ban on convicted prisoners voting did not infringe European Human Rights laws.

The judges said although the European Court has made rulings on prisoners voting in national and local elections, it had made no decision concerning referendums.

The right to vote in the referendum on September 18 is detailed in the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act passed by Holyrood in 2013.

'No such right'

It says: "A convicted person is legally incapable of voting in an independence referendum for the period during which the person is detained in a penal institution in pursuance of the sentence imposed on the person."

Issuing the Court of Session judgement, Lady Paton said: "We take the view that there is no clearly identifiable common law fundamental right to vote in the UK and certainly not a clearly identifiable common law fundamental right to vote in a referendum.

"Thus, in our opinion, no such right is contravened by the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013."

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said no arrangements had been made to help convicted prisoners vote.

But he said: "Prisoners on remand, awaiting trial are allowed to vote in any case.

"But many will not, because of course they would not have expected to be in prison on the day of the referendum, and therefore won't have registered for a postal vote before they were arrested."

He said the SPS had provided special courses and material for young offenders aged between 16-18 who would be eligible to vote for the first time if they are released in time for the referendum.

The two men behind the appeal are both serving life sentences for brutal murders.

Blanket ban

Gillon was jailed in 1998 for the murder of his friend, Gary Johnstone, 25, who suffered repeated blows to the head with a spade in Bathgate, in West Lothian.

Moohan was ordered to serve a minimum of 15 years after murdering father-of-two David Redpath, from Peterhead, at a hostel in Edinburgh in 2008.

Britain is one of only three EU countries where prisoners are banned from voting, with the others being Hungary and Bulgaria.

Successive Westminster governments have wanted to maintain that position but the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has said a blanket ban on prisoners voting is disproportionate.

Last year, the UK government conceded that it would have to change the law to allow some prisoners to vote.

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