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Prisoners: Voting Rights

Volume 710: debated on Thursday 7 May 2009

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether effective domestic remedies are available under United Kingdom law for prisoners prevented by the current blanket ban on serving prisoners voting in elections to the European Parliament who seek to rely on their rights under Article 3 of or Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights in Hirst (No 2) v United Kingdom. [HL3062]

The question of the voting rights of prisoners was considered extensively in our domestic courts prior to the proceedings in Strasbourg. Although our courts' decision to uphold the ban on prisoners voting differed from the subsequent decision of the European Court of Human Rights, this nevertheless demonstrates how the Human Rights Act (HRA) has permitted issues relating to the convention rights to be considered by our courts. In addition, as the case of Smith v Scott [2007] SC 345 demonstrated, it is possible to seek a declaration of incompatibility under Section 4 of the HRA. There exists, therefore, in our domestic law a procedure by which a remedy for breach of the convention rights can be sought. However, in respect of prisoners' voting rights, legislation will be required to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment in Hirst (No. 2). The Government remain committed to implementing the court's judgment, and have recently published a second-stage consultation paper as the next stage in that process. It is proposed in that paper that legislation on the issue would extend to European parliamentary elections. It would be premature to introduce legislation before the second consultation has completed.