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Friday, November 19, 2010

European Parliament issues warning to UK Parliament on prisoners votes

European Parliament issues warning to UK Parliament on prisoners votes

7.10. The United Kingdom must put to an end the practice of delaying full implementation of Strasbourg Court judgments with respect to politically sensitive issues, such as prisoners’ voting rights.

2. Overview of states with substantial implementation problems

2.1 Introductory remarks

6. Portugal and the United Kingdom were identified in my Progress Report9 as states having substantial difficulties in implementing Court judgments. However, given progress made in Portugal, as well as the need to somehow distinguish specific concerns I have noted with respect to the United Kingdom, in comparison with states with more substantial problems, I have decided to deal with both these countries separately in the present report.

2.1.2. United Kingdom

9. As significant implementation problems obviously still persist in the United Kingdom (UK), it would have been inappropriate to have dropped this country from this section. I have nevertheless set the UK aside from the other nine states listed below (2.2, Overview), as this country is not on the list of states in which the
most difficult human rights problems are enumerated: see Appendix I. That said, in the UK, areas where concerns currently exist include:

• Prisoner voting rights (Hirst (No.2) v. UK – Grand Chamber)) ;
• Retention of DNA and biometric data (S. and Marper v. UK – Grand Chamber);

i. Prisoner voting rights

10. The issue of prisoner voting rights is contained in the Hirst (No.2) v. UK 15 case and the failure to execute this judgment in time for the recent UK General Election on 6 May 2010 has resulted in, in effect, the violation of the rights of thousands of prisoners, meaning there is now a risk of an influx of applications to the Court.

11. In Hirst (No.2), the Court deemed the automatic and indiscriminate restriction on the right to vote for convicted prisoners to be in violation of Article 3, Protocol 1. The ban, imposed by the Representation of the People Act 1983, did not consider the length of the sentence, the nature of the offence or the individual
circumstances of the prisoner.

12. The action plan submitted by the UK authorities in 2006 laid out a two-stage consultation process, the first of which proposed partial enfranchisement based on sentence length; and the latter, published in April 2009, concluded that this was indeed the answer and proposals would enfranchise between 11 and 45% of the prison population. Linking entitlement to vote with sentence length establishes an association between the nature of the crime and the right to vote; however, concerns have been voiced by the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) that this is not an appropriate response as it would lead to further litigation. 16 Information on progress was to be provided in September 2010. 17

13. The fact remains that this judgment is still to be executed and as a result thousands of prisoners continue to be denied their right to vote, despite the pressure of the Committee of Ministers, which had foreseen the risk of repetitive applications before the Court in this case 18. Inevitably, further applications have
been communicated to the UK government on the issue. 19 However, the new United Kingdom government has recently confirmed that it will implement the judgment in Hirst no. 2 and has commenced ministerial deliberations on the matter 20. Progress in this regard is imperative considering that the Committee of Ministers, at its meeting in September 2010, again regretted the lack of tangible and concrete information on any progress and has called upon the UK authorities to prioritise implementation of this judgment without further delay 21.

213. Two final, but important comments: we, the Assembly, as a statutory organ of the Council of Europe (and at the same time national parliamentarians), should not meekly accept the premise that the Committee of Ministers has ‘exclusive jurisdiction’ on this subject. When the Court judgments are not fully and rapidly
executed, we – parliamentarians - also have a duty to help supervise the execution of the Court’s judgments. The credibility and viability of our European system of human rights cannot be left solely in the hands of the executive organ of the Council of Europe (in effect, diplomatic representatives of governments). Closely tied to this, is the idea which I mooted back in August 2009, to the effect that the Assembly ought to consider – in the future – suspending the voting rights of national delegations when their parliaments do not seriously exercise parliamentary control over the executive in cases of non-implementation of the European Court of
Human Rights judgments. 285

Comment: More on this story at UK Human Rights Blog


Tim said...

Why do UK politicians argue that people who break the law forfeit their human rights? I don’t understand that argument. Aren’t they breaking the law too by failing to implement this judgement? Doesn’t that make them hypocrites?

jailhouselawyer said...

Tim: They lost the first question in my case. As for your second question you are spot on, the answer is yes.