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Prisoners' lawyer warns that Government’s reckless refusal to address prisoner voting issue could cost tens of millions of pounds

Lack of action by Government on introducing voting for prisoners could be costly

9 June 2014

A lawyer for 550 prisoners fighting for the right to vote warns that continuing Government inaction on prisoner voting could leave taxpayers facing a bill running into tens of millions of pounds after the next General Election.

The Government’s failure to include legislative proposals in the Queen’s Speech addressing the issue of prisoner voting in the final Parliamentary session before the 2015 General Election leaves the door open for claims by tens of thousands of prisoners in the UK denied the vote at next year’s election for a breach of their human rights.  The compensation from successful claims could run to tens of millions of pounds.

The Government’s failure to act is also contrary to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee specifically set up to consider the issue.  In its report of 18 December 2013, the Committee recommended that the Government should introduce legislation to allow all prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less to vote in all UK Parliamentary, local and European elections and that prisoners serving longer sentences should be entitled to be registered to vote in the constituency into which they are due to be released six months before their scheduled release date. The Committee also recommended that the Government bring forward a Bill in the Queen’s Speech.

Now, some six months after the publication of the Joint Committee’s report, the Government has yet to respond to the Committee’s recommendations or confirm its intentions.  This, having previously stated that it intended to do so in “early 2014”.  Furthermore, it has not identified a timescale by when it will do so.

Sean Humber, head of the human rights department at Leigh Day, who is currently acting for over 550 prisoners in existing claims, stated:

“Despite the European Court of Human Rights having first ruled that the UK Government’s blanket ban on allowing prisoners the right to vote unlawfully  breached prisoners’ human rights over a decade ago  and confirming the unlawfulness of this blanket ban in a succession of further judgments ever since, the Government stubbornly refuses to act.

“It seems ever clearer that the Government has absolutely no intention of addressing the issue of prisoner voting before the General Election in May 2015.  Having cynically used every pretty much delaying tactic imaginable, it has now failed to comply with the latest Court’s deadline for action and chosen to ignore the recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee it specifically set up to consider the matter.

“Seemingly not content with facing over 2,000 cases already filed with the Court in relation to prisoners denied the vote in previous elections,  the Government’s foolish refusal to act leaves the door open for further claims by tens of thousands of prisoners denied the vote at the next General Election.

“While our Prime Minister suggests that the prospect of giving votes to prisoners makes him feel physically ill, what is more sickening is that his Government’s reckless refusal to act could well lead to the UK taxpayer having to foot a  bill running into tens of million pounds from entirely avoidable compensation claims.”

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