Turning Criticism into Strength
Edited by Spyridon Flogaitis, Tom Zwart and Julie Fraser
Chapter 7: Britain must defy the European Court of Human Rights on prisoner voting as Strasbourg is exceeding its authority
In 2011 the British House of Commons was the scene of a robust debate on prisoner voting rights. By a majority of more than 200, MPs from both sides of the political spectrum voted in favour of the current United Kingdom (‘UK’) law that convicted prisoners are not eligible to be on the electoral roll. This ban has been in place for almost 150 years, since the passing of the Forfeiture Act 1870. Since that time no fewer than four Representation of the People Acts – in 1918, 1969, 1983 and 2000 – have, either explicitly or implicitly, forbidden prisoners to vote while serving their sentence. In the Representation of the People Act 2000 the law was amended to allow prisoners on remand to vote. The reason given was that prisoners on remand have been charged with an offence but not convicted of it, and as such should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. However, Parliament reaffirmed its position that convicted prisoners should be ineligible to vote for the duration of their sentence. Regrettably, these multiple, emphatic statements of the will of Parliament have not pre- vented the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) from declaring that the UK’s prohibition on prisoner voting is unlawful. It is submitted that the UK Government should defy the ECtHR on this issue because, by declaring the UK legislation incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), it has exceeded its authority.
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