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Human rights Grand Chamber rejects appeals on prisoner voting

14 April 2011

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has rejected requests for referrals by the British government and by a Scottish prisoner over the issue of whether prisoners should have the right to vote.

The ECtHR ruled in November that the UK had failed to comply with its judgment in Hirst v UK in 2005, which found that a blanket ban on voting by prisoners was a violation of article 3 of protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (see solicitorsjournal.com, 29 November 2010).

At the time the court gave the UK government six months to introduce legislation bringing its law into line with the convention.

This week the Grand Chamber rejected referral requests relating to the November judgment in Greens and MT v UK (application nos 60041/08 and 60054/08), meaning that November’s judgment becomes final.

It set a fresh deadline for the government to comply, of six months from 11 April 2011.

Tony Kelly, partner at Taylor & Kelly solicitors in Coatbridge near Glasgow, acted for Greens, an inmate of Peterhead prison in Scotland.

He said Greens had made a referral request because the November judgment “overlooked the question of his exclusion from voting at the forthcoming Scottish elections in May”.

Kelly said the court seemed to believe there was a possibility of Greens being released before 5 May, but this was not the case. Kelly said none of the prisoners would be voting in the May elections.

He said another ground for asking for a referral was that Greens was denied an “effective remedy” in the Scottish courts under article 13 of the convention; for example, awarding him the vote.

“The European Court Grand Chamber told the UK government as long ago as 2005 that it was in violation of a convention right,” said Kelly. “The latest ruling was not an edict coming out of nowhere.”

Kelly said it would be “jaw-dropping” if the coalition did nothing at all in response to the Grand Chamber’s deadline.

However, if the government adopted a limited solution, such as restricting the ban to prisoners serving sentences of over a year, he said there would be another legal challenge “and the government knew it”.

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