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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Europe says electoral reform means prisoners too

Europe says electoral reform means prisoners too


The Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe has just strongly criticised the UK coalition government for failing to inform the Committee at its meeting held this week (14 – 16 September) on how it intends to abide by a 2005 European Court of Human Rights ruling (Hirst No. 2) to allow sentenced prisoners to vote in time for next year’s Scottish, Welsh, Northern Ireland and local elections.

In its decision released today the Committee said it “regretted” that “no tangible and concrete information was presented to the Committee on how the United Kingdom now intends to abide by the judgment”. This is despite the justice minister Lord McNally promising in a debate in the House of Lords on 10 June that the government was “considering afresh the best way forward on the issue of prisoner voting rights” and would “fully update” the Committee on the government’s intentions in time for the meeting in September.

In its submission to the Committee ahead of this week’s meeting the Prison Reform Trust asked the Committee to consider serving the UK government, in the absence of any concrete action, with formal notice of its intention under Protocol No. 14 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms that it will refer to the Court the question of whether the government has failed to fulfil its obligation. Submissions were also made by, amongst others, the Aire Centre, Liberty, Penal Reform International and UNLOCK.

In its decision the Committee said it had instructed the Secretariat, in the absence of any concrete developments, to prepare a draft second interim resolution, and would resume consideration of the issue at its 1100th meeting in November – December 2010.

The failure of the government to inform the Committee of its intentions raises serious questions over whether it will be able to comply with the judgement in time for next year’s elections. At its meeting in June, following the election of the coalition government, the Committee “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”.

Reiterating repeated warnings over the years to the UK authorities to comply with the ruling, in today’s decisions the Committee called upon the United Kingdom to “prioritise implementation of this judgment without any further delay and to inform the Committee of Ministers on the substantive steps taken in this respect”.

It made clear that, in complying with the judgement, any remaining restriction on the franchise should be “proportionate with a discernible and sufficient link between the sanction, and the conduct and circumstances of the individual concerned”. This would appear to mean that disenfranchisement may lawfully be imposed only on a small number of prisoners who have been sentenced for electoral fraud or a related offence. This is consistent with a recent European Court judgement in April (Frodl V Austria) which clarifies that the vast majority of prisoners will need to be given the vote for the UK to comply with the European Convention

In December 2009, the Committee adopted Interim Resolution CM/ResDH(2009)160, in which it expressed “serious concern that the substantial delay in implementing the judgment had given rise to a significant risk that the United Kingdom general election in 2010 would be performed in a way that fails to comply with the Convention”. Despite the Committee’s insistence to “rapidly adopt measures” to implement the judgment the 2010 general election it was held in breach of the Convention.

Today the Committee said it “deeply regretted that despite the Committee’s calls to the United Kingdom over the years to implement the judgment, the risk of repetitive applications to the European Court has materialised as the Court has communicated 3 applications to the government with a view to adopting the pilot judgment procedure and has received over 1 340 applications.”

Commenting on the decision just released by the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Foot dragging will no longer be tolerated by the Council of Europe which has given the coalition government just three months to comply with the outstanding Court judgement and, at last, overturn the outdated and counterproductive ban on prisoners’ voting.

“This unequivocal decision should concentrate ministers’ minds as they make plans for electoral reform. People in prison, with the exception of those proportionately punished for electoral fraud, must be taken into account and enfranchised in time for the elections in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the local elections in 2011.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope you are fully accepting of everything else that Europe says. Look into it.