Site Meter

Friday, November 05, 2010

Jailed MPs could be denied vote after latest European ruling

Jailed MPs could be denied vote after latest European ruling

Jailed MPs and those who try to rig elections could be denied the vote while murderers and rapists are allowed to cast ballots, it has been claimed.

By Martin Beckford, Daily Telegraph
Published: 7:00AM GMT 05 Nov 2010

Legal experts believe that a European ruling will limit the British Government’s ability to decide which prisoners should win the vote.

It would embarrass David Cameron - who told the Commons he felt “physically ill” at the thought of convicts taking part in elections - after claims that the Prime Minister would try to deny the most notorious criminals the right.

But it could mean that anyone jailed for electoral fraud or abusing a public office – such as politicians convicted of fiddling their expenses – are the only prisoners who are denied the right to vote.

Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister at One Crown Office Row chambers, wrote on his blog: “The now-final decision in Frodl [the new European case] means that the government will find it hard to limit the rights of prisoners to vote in any significant way, and this will fuel the debate further.

“This is likely to have a significant impact on the UK’s implementation of the prisoner voting system, as the court in Frodl effectively ruled that the disenfranchisement of prisoners could only happen on rare occasions: namely, where a prisoner was detained as a result of the abuse of a public position or a threat to undermine the rule of law or democratic foundations.”

Prisoners in England and Wales are barred from voting under the 1983 Representation of the People Act but following a case brought by John Hirst, who killed his landlady with an axe, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that this blanket ban contravenes human rights law.

Despite the Hirst judgement in 2005 the British Government has failed to change the law, and has continued to contest a similar case brought by a murderer, Peter Chester.

The Daily Telegraph disclosed this week that the Coalition now accepts it must allow prisoners to vote, mainly to avoid paying out millions of pounds in compensation to prisoners denied the vote.

Downing Street sources have said that exceptions would be sought for anyone serving more than four years.

However another decision by the European Court of Human Rights, in October, is thought to have severely limited ministers’ options.

The Grand Chamber of the court in Strasbourg rejected an appeal by the Austrian government in the case of Frodl, which also related to prisoners’ right to vote.

This means that the original judgement in Frodl – which held that any restriction on universal suffrage for prisoners must be directly linked to their conviction – is final.

The British Government is expected to decide how to amend the law before a meeting of an influential European body, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, in December.

Mr Hirst said: “It’s going to make David Cameron look silly when he has to announce that all prisoners are going to get the vote.”

Meanwhile the convicted killer has insisted he is not at risk of being recalled to jail for breaching his life licence, after a YouTube video apparently showed him smoking a cannabis joint in the wake of his legal victory.

“The police aren’t knocking on my door,” he said.

“They should be investigating the people who are making threats against me on YouTube, that’s harassment.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Government accepts there is a need to amend the law following the Hirst judgement. The Government is actively considering this and work is continuing.”

“As the Government said during the Chester case, the Government has noted the Frodl case.”

No comments: