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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Murderer asks court for right to vote in Holyrood poll

Murderer asks court for right to vote in Holyrood poll

David Leask Investigations Reporter

31 Mar 2011

A MURDERER will today go to Scotland’s highest court in a bid to win the right to vote in the Holyrood election on May 5.

George McGeogh will seek a judicial review of the UK Government’s long-standing opposition to votes for convicts, despite European Court rulings in favour of such a move.

Backed by human rights lawyer Tony Kelly, McGeogh will take Jim Wallace, the Advocate General for Scotland, to the Court of Session today.

McGeogh is serving a life sentence in Dumfries prison for the murder of bakery worker Eric Innes in Inverness in 1998.

Mr Kelly last night said: “What we are trying to do is get prisoners the vote for the elections. We are not doing anything to interfere with the conduct of the poll.”

Westminster – not the Scottish Government – is responsible for carrying out the Holyrood elections. The UK Government and Westminster remain locked in a dispute with the European Court of Human Rights over the issue of prisoner suffrage.

The Strasbourg-based court, which has power over most of the continent and not just the European Union, has persistently ruled in favour of prisoners.

The House of Commons, however, earlier this year defied judges in Strasbourg, insisting who can vote is a matter for Parliament and not the courts.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he had “every sympathy” with MPs who felt foreign judges were trying to overthrow UK laws that had been in place since the 1840s.

Court of Human Rights president Jean-Paul Costa countered with a claim that the Commons vote would be a disaster – and compared Britain to despotic regimes. Mr Costa said the only country to have ever denounced the European Convention on Human Rights was “Greece in 1967 at the time of the colonels’ dictatorship”.

Mr Kelly is today not expected to dust down the traditional human rights argument for prisoners’ votes. Instead, he will make a series of technical arguments, saying UK opposition to convict suffrage is a breach of European Union law and the treaty obligations it signed when it joined the old Common Market in 1973.

England’s most senior judge, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, earlier this week declared that European Court rulings are the “law of the land” in Britain. That, legal commentators said, would make it harder for the UK Government to continue to resist Strasbourg on the issue.

Some 2500 British prisoners, including hundreds in Scotland, have cases pending before the European Court.

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