Thursday, April 1, 2004

Prisoners must get right to vote, says court

UK: The government will be forced to lift a ban on prisoners voting dating back to 1870 after the European court of human rights ruled yesterday it breached a lifer's human rights.

The law, brought in not long after transportation to the colonies was abolished and later enshrined in the Representation of the People Act of 1983, denies 70,000 sentenced prisoners the right to vote in parliamentary and local elections.

Seven judges at the Strasbourg court ruled the ban breached article three of protocol one to the European convention on human rights, which guarantees "free elections ... under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature". The case was brought by John Hirst, 53, who is serving life for manslaughter at Rye Hill prison in Warwickshire. He was awarded £8,000 for costs and expenses.

Hirst, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility in 1980, remains in prison although his tariff expired in 1994 because the Parole Board deems considers him a serious risk to the public.

He first challenged the ban in the high court, but was turned him down in 2001 when the court ruled it was compatible with the European convention for prisoners to lose the right to a say in how the country was governed.

Eighteen of the countries which have ratified the European convention give prisoners full voting rights, while 13 ban all prisoners from voting. The rest, including Britain, allow some categories to vote.

In Britain those remanded in custody who have not yet been sentenced and those imprisoned for contempt of court or failure to pay fines can take part in elections.

The government argued that the voting restrictions on prisoners were designed to prevent crime and punish offenders and to enhance civil responsibility and respect for the rule of law.[?]

By Clare Dyer posted 1 April 04


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