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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

UK 'could face sanctions over prison vote failure' says Europe

UK 'could face sanctions over prison vote failure' says Europe

By Andrew Woodcock
Last updated at 8:01 AM on 9th June 2010

The UK was warned today it could face sanctions if it fails to give prisoners the right to vote in time for elections taking place next May.

The Government has so far failed to comply with a European Court of Human Rights judgment in 2005 which found that the voting ban affecting around 90,000 jail inmates in the UK was incompatible with their human rights.

A ruling by the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, published today, voiced 'profound regret' that the blanket ban was not lifted in time for last month's general election.

Free to vote: Should the inmates of Holloway Prison have their say in elections?

And it indicated that it was ready to draw up a resolution for action at its next meeting in September, if the UK had not taken steps by that point to comply with the judgment in time for the elections to devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on May 5, 2011.

The UK could be the first country to fall foul of new powers which came into effect earlier this month allowing non-compliance proceedings in the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg court, with potential sanctions including suspension or expulsion from the Council of Europe - a separate body from the European Union.

In its ruling today, the Committee of Ministers recalled its expression last year of 'serious concern' over the substantial delay in the UK responding to the court's judgment.

The failure to lift the ban in time for the General Election created 'a substantial risk' of repeated appeals by prisoners to the European Court, the committee warned.

And it 'expressed confidence that the new United Kingdom Government will adopt general measures to implement the judgment ahead of elections scheduled for 2011 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and thereby also prevent further, repetitive applications to the European Court'.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: 'The Committee of Ministers has given the coalition government a valuable opportunity to overturn this outdated and unlawful ban.

'Prison governors see voting as an ordinary part of rehabilitation. The Electoral Commission sees no practical difficulty in enabling prisoners to vote.

Encouragement: Douglas Hurd believes in voting rights for prisoners

'The former home secretary Douglas Hurd believes that giving people in custody the vote would encourage elected representatives to take a more active interest in what goes on behind bars.

'The ban should be swept away as part of the Government's drive for wider constitutional reform and its commitment to a "rehabilitation revolution".'

A Government spokesman said: 'Until the approach is settled, it would not be appropriate to comment further.'

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