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Prisoners' lawyer slams Government proposals on prisoner voting as being “wholly inadequate”

A lawyer representing more than 550 prisoners pursuing compensation from the Government called the Government's proposals on prisoner voting 'wholly inadequate' and likely to be extremely costly

Posted on 22 November 2012

Sean Humber, a lawyer representing more than 550 prisoners pursuing compensation from the Government through the European Court of Human Rights over being denied the vote, called the Government’s proposals on prisoner voting ‘wholly inadequate’ and likely to be extremely costly.

The Government has today announced in Parliament plans for draft legislation identifying three options – keeping the existing ban on sentenced prisoners voting, giving the vote to sentenced prisoners serving up to 6 months or giving the vote to sentenced prisoners serving up to 4 years.

The Government is only announcing these proposals in a last desperate attempt to stave off further action by the European Court of Human Rights who had given the UK Government until today to “bring forward ... legislative proposals intended to amend the 1983 [Representation of the People] Act ... in a manner which is Convention-compliant”.

Sean Humber a partner in the Human Rights team at Leigh Day & Co said:

“These proposals are wholly inadequate for a range of reasons. “First of all, in simply introducing a Draft Bill, the Government cannot be considered to be bringing forward legislative proposals. Rather, it is simply announcing a possible, non-binding future intention to introduce legislation.

“Secondly, in only setting out a range of alternatives, the Government cannot be said to be identifying a preferred option, let alone bring forward a firm proposal, for rectifying the existing breach of prisoners’ Convention rights.

“Thirdly, and most fundamentally, none of the options put forward, even if eventually implemented, are likely to rectify the breach of prisoners’ voting rights. One option, the retention of the status quo, cannot possibly be regarded as Convention-compliant as this is precisely the situation that the Court has repeatedly found to be a breach of prisoners’ rights. The other options, given that they would automatically and indiscriminately affect specific sections of the prison population irrespective of their individual circumstances, would appear excessively rigid and therefore disproportionate and not Convention-compliant.

“Fourthly, the practical consequence of these proposals is that any firm legislative proposals are unlikely to be introduced into Parliament until May 2014 at the earliest. Given the date of the next General Election in the UK has been fixed for 7th May 2015, it is highly questionable whether any Bill would have completed its passage through Parliament and enacted in time for the General Election. The Government’s approach is therefore likely to mean that the blanket ban on prisoners voting in the UK is likely to remain in place for the next General Election, some ten years after the Hirst (No. 2) judgment.

Mr Humber continued: “The Government’s proposals are wholly inadequate. In light of this, we are writing to the Court today to request that they urgently resume consideration of the claims for compensation brought on behalf of over 550 serving prisoners in respect of the Government’s refusal to allow them to vote in the General Election in 2010.

“The Government is already facing claims for compensation running into the millions for refusing to allow serving prisoners the vote. Its stubborn refusal to take the necessary action is simply leaving it exposed to the cost of further claims.

"For a Government that trumpets the importance of law and order, it should be a matter of shame that for the best part of a decade the UK has wilfully ignored a succession of court rulings and continued to act unlawfully in refusing to allow prisoners the vote. My clients are frequently told that our legal system is not based on the principle that you only need to obey the laws you want and can ignore the rest. The Government needs to practise what it preaches.”