The European Court of Justice, the EU’s most senior court, this morning ruled that it was lawful for member countries to impose a blanket voting ban on certain categories of prisoner.
- For analysis of the judgment and a background to prisoner voting, see Alex Cavendish’s piece here
The decision comes after Mr Delvigne, a convicted murderer in France, brought a case claiming that a ban on him voting in European Parliament elections violated his civil and political rights. The ruling said that the ‘ban to which Mr Delvigne is subject is proportionate in so far as it takes into account the nature and gravity of the criminal offence committed and the duration of the penalty’.
Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights, a wholly different court from the ECJ, held – for the fourth time – that the UK’s blanket ban on giving convicted prisoners the vote was contrary to Article 3 of Protocol No 1.
Although the Government did publish a draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill in November 2012 to rectify this issue, it is still the case that only prisoners on remand in the UK are able to vote under the Representation of the People Act 2000, every other prisoner is subject to the blanket ban.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, has said that ‘being engaged as citizens is one of the ways people can be prepared for release so they can lead crime-free lives and be positive citizens back in the community.’
Most European countries share this view and in 18 countries in the EU there is no electoral ban for prisoners. In other countries, where there is a ban, electoral disqualification depends on the crime committed or the length of the sentence. In Germany for example, the ban on prisoner voting only applies to those convicted of crimes which target the integrity of the state e.g. terrorism.
In the context of growing Euroscepticism, a Government spokesman has responded to today’s news by assuring the public that ‘the UK’s ban on prisoner voting stays in place and remains a matter for the UK Supreme Court and Parliament to determine.’
Alex Cisneros is a barrister practising out of No5 Chambers. He specialises in public law