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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Responding to Human Rights Judgments: Prisoners’ voting rights (Hirst v UK No2)

Responding to Human Rights Judgments: Prisoners’ voting rights (Hirst v UK No2)

The European Court of Human Rights found19 that the United Kingdom’s bar of all convicted serving prisoners from voting breached Article 3 of the First Protocol (right to free elections). The question of how, and how far, voting rights should be extended to serving prisoners is a sensitive and complex issue. The then Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, announced on 2 February 2006 that the Government would consult on the issues raised by this judgment in two stages. The first stage of the consultation, which concluded in March 2007, set out the principles behind the arguments for and against convicted prisoners retaining the right to vote whilst they are detained in prison, and the options available to the Government following the judgment. The Government will consider which legislative remedy is most appropriate once its proposals for implementing the judgment have been finalised following the second public consultation on this issue. The JCHR said: …The Government’s change of approach and failure to set a concrete timetable for its response raises serious questions about its reluctance to deal with this issue. In our previous reports, we have drawn attention to a number of cases where significant delay in implementation has tarnished the otherwise good record of the United Kingdom in responding to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. For the most part, these cases have been legally straightforward, but politically difficult. This case appears destined to join a list of long standing breaches of individual rights that the current Government, and its predecessors, have been unable or unwilling to address effectively within a reasonable time frame. The Government should rethink its approach.
19 Hirst v United Kingdom (No. 2), Application 74025/01, judgment of 6 October 2005; see also Smith v Scott [2007] CSIH 9
Responding to Human Rights Judgments
We call on the Government to publish the responses to its earlier consultation and to publish proposals for reform, including a clear timetable, without further delay. A legislative solution can and should be introduced during the next parliamentary session. If the Government fails to meet this timetable, there is a significant risk that the next general election will take place in a way that fails to comply with the Convention and at least part of the prison population will be unlawfully disenfranchised. (paragraphs 62-63)
The Government remains committed to taking appropriate steps in respect of the judgement in Hirst, and to carrying out a second, more detailed, public consultation that takes account of the findings of the first stage consultation. The Government acknowledges that there has been a delay to the timetable originally envisaged for the conduct of that second consultation. The current intention is that the results of the first consultation will be published together with a second stage consultation document. Since the judgment, the Government has kept the Committee of Ministers updated, including a detailed note in April of last year. A further brief update noting the Government’s position was submitted in October ahead of the December meeting of the Committee of Ministers’ Deputies. We will continue to keep the Committee of Ministers updated on our progress on this case, and have undertaken to submit further information in due course on the form and timing of a further consultation. In implementing the judgment, the Government will need to take account of the wide spectrum of opinion on the issue, as well as the practical implications for the courts, for prison authorities and for the conduct of elections. The solution that we reach must respect the Court’s judgment, and must also respect the traditions and context of the United Kingdom. As noted in the April update, the Government will consider the outcome of the consultation and will bring forward legislation to implement its final approach as soon as Parliamentary time allows.


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