Prisoners on day release will be allowed home leave to vote

Chinese prisoners voting
Chinese prisoners voting

Later: Read Converse Comment

Theresa May is to risk incurring the wrath of Conservative MPs by granting voting rights to some prisoners, it has been reported.

Prisoners sentenced to less than a year in jail and who are let out on day release will allowed to return home to vote after Justice Secretary David Lidington decided to end the existing total ban, according to The Sunday Times.

The move follows a 12-year wrangle between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which has repeatedly ruled the blanket ban breaches prisoners’ human rights.

The former prime minister David Cameron once said the thought of prisoners being given the vote made him feel “physically sick”.

Mr Lidington was reported to have circulated his proposals to other ministers last week.

However Tory MP Peter Bone told The Sunday Times: “I’m not in favour of letting prisoners vote. I find it extraordinary. It’s a bonkers decision. I think a lot of MPs will be concerned about this.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on speculation. Our policy on prisoner voting is well established – it remains a matter for the UK to determine, and offenders in prison cannot vote.”

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “The European Court of Human Rights has been saying for some years that we can’t stop all prisoners having the vote and the Labour Party believes that we should indeed, in the end, we have to support the position of the European Court of Human Rights.”

Prisoners Should Be Allowed To Vote Because…. in a democracy everybody counts

mark2013By: Mark Leech

It has been almost eight years since David Cameron said it made him “physically ill” to be forced to give prisoners the vote –  well today he may be reaching for his sick bag.

Media reports state that Justice Secretary David Lidington has circulated to his Cabinet colleagues his plan to allow those sentenced for less than one year, in Cat D conditions and ROTL cleared, to vote in Elections while on day release; let’s be honest, he could not have restricted it much further.

Lidington’s decision comes after a 12-year battle between the British Government and the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 2005 that a blanket ban on prisoner voting is unlawful.

My view then was that the ECHR was right, and it has not changed since.

“Are you suggesting Mark that the likes of Ian Huntley should be given the vote?” asked one interviewer recently, appalled at my belief that the vast majority of serving prisoners should be allowed to vote.

“Rapists and paedophiles should really be able to vote then should they?” asked another, while a third laughed at my suggestion that in all honesty the public were actually more interested in why prisoners shouldn’t vote, than prisoners were as to why they should be able to do so; but it is true nonetheless.

And let’s not beat about the bush, let me come straight to the point.

Yes ‘the likes of’ Ian Huntley should be allowed to vote – and for the record, so too should the likes of jailed paedophiles, rapists, murders, robbers, drug addicts, thieves, shoplifters, mental health offenders, and practically everyone else.

Why? That’s easy.

For the very simple reason that we live in a democracy and the one thing that marks out a democracy, from a dictatorship, is that in a democracy everybody counts; black, white, tall, small, fat, thin, gay, straight – everybody, every single person, ‘counts’.

Let’s be clear I am not saying that every prisoner should be allowed to vote, only that where we allow the court to suspend the right to vote it has to be based on reason not rhetoric – there has to be some connection between the crime committed and the sentence passed.

Look, take the case of a man who goes out on Friday night, gets drunks, gets involved in an argument that descends into a fight, is arrested for assault and appears in court on Monday morning – when I ask people whether a man in this position should lose his driving licence, almost every single one says the loss of his driving licence should not be a part of the sentence “because he had not committed a motoring offence”.

Quite so.

So why do we remove the right to vote from prisoners who have not been convicted of any electoral offence?

Where someone has been convicted of electoral fraud then suspension of the right to participate in elections for a fixed period should be a sentence open to the courts – not a stick wielded by politicians for ulterior political motives.

And it is not as if others countries share the UK view that a prison sentence automatically ousts the right to vote; they don’t.

Many nations, including Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, have no form of electoral ban for imprisoned offenders at all. In others, however, severe restrictions make it very difficult in practice for offenders to vote. In Cyprus, for example, an inmate must happen to be out of prison on the day of the elections, and in Slovakia, prisoners can legally vote but no provision is made to allow them to do so.

The Republic of Ireland lifted its ban in 2006, passing legislation enabling all prisoners to vote by post in the constituency where they would ordinarily live – and the first thing they did in South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela was to give every single prisoner the right to vote because they had spent too long living with apartheid to allow it to continue to infect their electoral system; and electoral apartheid is what we have in the UK as long as we say one section of the community – prisoners – cannot vote.

In 13 European countries, electoral disqualification depends on the crime committed or the length of the sentence. Italy, Malta and Poland, for example, ban those deemed to have committed serious crimes. In Greece, anyone sentenced to life receives a permanent voting ban.

Germany’s law actually urges prisons to encourage their inmates to vote, although it does ban those whose crimes undermine “democratic order”, such as political insurgents. You see Germany, with its chequered human rights history (like that of South Africa) ‘gets it’ where the UK doesn’t.

Germany ’gets it’ that there is a risk that by excluding people from taking part in the very essence of a democratic process by voting, they will accept that exclusion and not only become disengaged, but then they’ll stick two fingers up to your society by starting their own way of doing things which results in gang culture, crime and lawlessness.

Germany is not alone.

Until 2005 https://tinyurl.com/y8rwhkzl Austria banned all those sentenced to more than one year. However, a convicted murderer challenged that and won, meaning that Austria now allows the vote in all cases except where the offence is particularly relevant – such as electoral fraud.

Other than the UK, the only other European countries with an outright ban on prisoners voting are Russia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxembourg and Romania; hardly countries at the forefront of human rights.

While I’m of course pleased that a decision finally seems to be on the horizon on prisoner voting, the reality is that if introduced as suggested it will work unfairness – and be in no doubt, these Lidington concessions are not made out of a concern for human rights, but stem from a recognition that even the longest of long grass, into which these things are so often kicked, ultimately has its limits.

Lidington wants to see prisoners serving under 12 months, located in open prisons, and cleared for day release being allowed home leave on election day to vote – be honest, could he have restricted it any further?

Our government needs to recognise the European Convention on Human Rights is not some ‘a la carte’ menu in a restaurant, where you can pick and choose what rights you want to enforce and those you wish to ignore, all the rights protected by the Convention are enforceable – and let us not forget the UK signed up to this Convention well half a century ago.

The UK led the way in post-war Europe and drove this historical Convention forward – over fifty years later, if anything should make anyone ’physically ill’ it is not the prospect of giving all prisoners the vote, but the shameful way we have for half a century walked over hard-won rights and freedoms that our ancestors considered so vital to any democracy that they died for them.

Main article: New plans to allow prisoner votes

Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales and other prison-related publications

Prisoner voting ban breaches human rights

ballot-box

The rights of more than 1,000 UK prisoners were breached when they were prevented from voting in elections, European judges have said.

But the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected the applicants’ claims for compensation and legal costs.

The case before the ECHR concerned 1,015 prisoners who were behind bars throughout various elections between 2009 and 2011.

Grouping together all of the long-standing prisoner voting cases against the UK, the court ruled that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – right to a free election.

In August last year the court made a similar ruling, endorsing previous cases where it was found that the blanket ban was a breach.

In September 2014, the Council of Europe’s Committee “noted with profound concern and disappointment that the United Kingdom authorities did not introduce a Bill to parliament at the start of its 2014-2015 session as recommended by the competent parliamentary committee”.

It urged the United Kingdom authorities to introduce such a Bill as soon as possible, and will come back to the issue later this year.

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said the judgement perhaps showed that we are better off out of the European court of human rights altogether.

Mr Leech said: “This judgement shows that we are perhaps better off out of the European court of human rights with, instead, an enforceable bill of rights rather than be in cahoots with a court where it’s judges have no bottle.

“How can a court declare that the human rights of over a thousand people have been consistently and unlawfully ignored in breach of the convention and yet neither compensation nor costs are recoverable?”

Court ruling due on prisoner voting

ballot-box

European judges are set to rule on whether the rights of 1,015 serving prisoners in the UK were breached when they were prevented from voting in elections.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is due to announce its judgment on prisoner voting rights tomorrow.

It will cover applications brought by more than a thousand people who were in jail throughout various elections between 2009 and 2011.

The ruling will group together all of the long-standing prisoner voting cases against the UK that have been pending before the court.

In August last year the ECHR ruled that the rights of 10 prisoners had been violated in relation to Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights – right to a free election.

Judges said they reached the conclusion as the case was identical to another prisoner voting case in the UK, in which the blanket ban was deemed a breach.

The court rejected the applicants’ claim for compensation and legal costs, after an earlier judgment made it clear that it was unlikely to award even expenses in such cases.

In September 2014, the Council of Europe’s Committee “noted with profound concern and disappointment that the United Kingdom authorities did not introduce a bill to parliament at the start of its 2014-2015 session as recommended by the competent parliamentary committee”.

It urged the United Kingdom authorities to introduce such a bill as soon as possible, and will come back to the issue later this year.

‘Cowardly judges’ say prisoners’ breach of human rights doesn’t deserve costs or compensation

ballot-box

In a decision said to be ‘cowardly’ European Judges have ruled that denying the vote to a group of prisoners was a breach of human rights, although no compensation or costs should be paid to them saying the ruling in their favour was enough.

The group, who are prisoners in Scottish jails, argued the UK’s ban on them voting in the 2009 European elections breached their human rights.

The UK has already been told it must allow some prisoners to vote.

Both the previous Labour government and current coalition have failed to legislate to change the law – although Parliamentarians have been considering various proposals from ministers to end the long-running row with the Strasbourg court.

In the latest case, the court – which oversees human rights law that the UK signed up to – had been asked to award damages to the inmates because of the UK’s repeated failure over almost a decade to end the blanket ban on voting.

But although the court said the inmates, who include sex offenders, had suffered a breach of their rights, they were not entitled to any compensation.

In their ruling, judges said that in the vast majority of cases relating to prisoners’ votes they had had “expressly declined” to order governments to make payments to convicted criminals.

“As in those cases, in the present case the court concludes that the finding of a violation constitutes sufficient just satisfaction for any non-pecuniary damage sustained by the applicants,” said the latest ruling.

They also refused to order the British government to pay the inmates’ legal costs.

In a dissenting ruling, one of the judges complained the case should never have come before the court – because it had repeatedly demonstrated that it had no settled view over votes for prisoners – making it even harder for individual governments to work out what to do to avoid further claims.

Responding to the judgement, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “The Government has always been clear that it believes prisoner voting is an issue that should ultimately be decided in the UK.”

Convicted prisoners in the UK have been long banned from voting on the basis that they have forfeited that right by breaking the law and going to jail. Other European nations have the same ban in place – although the majority allow some prisoners to vote in some circumstances.

In 2004 the ECHR in Strasbourg ruled that a UK blanket ban on prisoners voting was unlawful after it received a claim from convicted killer John Hirst. The following year that judgement became final after the UK lost an appeal – piling pressure on ministers to change the law.

Seven years later, MPs voted to keep the ban on prisoner voting – excluding those on remand.

In December 2013, a cross-party committee of MPs concluded that prisoners serving a jail term of a year or less should be entitled to vote – but so far this has not been enacted.

Prime Minister David Cameron has previously said that inmates will not be given the right to vote under his government, and said that the idea made him feel “physically sick”.

Last October convicted murderers Peter Chester and George McGeoch lost a bid at the Supreme Court to win prisoners the right to vote in light of the ECHR’s original 2004 ruling.

Mr Cameron described that particular decision as “a great victory for common sense”. Had the court ordered compensation, ministers would have faced the prospect of paying similar sums to hundreds of other cases before the courts.

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said the judges lacked courage.

Mr Leech said: “Where in any other court could a claimant win a case for a breach of human rights and not be afforded either their costs or appropriate compensation?

“Our judges have become political animals, swayed by politicial not judicial considerations, instead of being cowards they should have been more courageous and done what justice demanded to be right.”

Prisoner Vote Decision Delayed Again

ballot-box

A decision over whether prisoners should be given the vote could delayed until after the next general election, the Justice Secretary has indicated.

Chris Grayling said complex recommendations made by a cross-party committee about how to deal with the controversial issue had caused delays, and refused to rule out kicking the issue into the next parliament.

The Tory last year published a draft Bill offering MPs three options – giving the vote to prisoners serving less than four years or less than six months or keeping the blanket ban.

After the recommendations were set out, a committee of MPs and peers recommended that voting rights should be given to prisoners serving short sentences or approaching the end of their time behind bars.

They said it would be ”wholly disproportionate” for the UK to defy a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which has said Britain’s ban on votes for those behind bars is a breach of their human rights.

The committee called on the Government to table a Bill granting the vote in local, general and European elections to those serving less than 12 months or within six months of release, with exceptions for those convicted of serious crimes.

Prime Minister David Cameron has made clear he does not want to extend votes to prisoners, telling MPs it would make him ”physically ill”, and a House of Commons vote in 2011 saw MPs vote by an overwhelming 234 to 22 to preserve the ban.

Quizzed by the House of Lords Constitution committee about the Government’s progress, Mr Grayling said the committee’s recommendation was the reason for the “slightly slow response”.

He said: “The position we are in at the moment is we are still considering the response from the committee, and the reason that we are taking a bit of time over this is not that we have moved away from our earlier position but because the option that the committee recommended – which was to provide, or to be considered, providing votes for prisoners in the last few months of their sentence – actually is quite complex.

“So, we need to take quite a careful look at what the viability is of doing that. Obviously, I would wish, in whatever measures in due course are brought before the House, to be able to reflect the views of the committee, but it is not something where you can simply tick the box and say ‘yep, fine’.

“It’s actually quite different to anything that has previously been envisaged. It does require some careful analysis.”

Asked if the delays meant the matter would probably be pushed beyond the end of the parliament, Mr Grayling replied: “I couldn’t say that for certain yet. But it certainly wasn’t a straightforward recommendation because, as you can imagine, we have got people at different stages of their sentence, we have got people who are on indeterminate sentences, and so looking at how exactly you deal with that, and of course, people who are subject to parole board release as opposed to automatic release again causes a logistical issue for us.”

Mr Grayling told the committee it was Conservative policy to replace the Human Rights Act but insisted the details of how that would be done would be set out in the party’s manifesto.

Judges Should Not Make Political Statements

lord-judge

Claims by the European Court of Human Rights to set judge-made law on a widening range of social issues is threatening to undermine the sovereignty of Parliament, one of Britain’s most senior judges has warned – but critics have said Judges Should Not Make Political Statements while still on the bench.

Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, said that Parliament needed to decide for itself how much power it was willing to cede to the Strasbourg-based court.

His intervention came as the President of the Court, Judge Dean Spielmann, warned Britain’s refusal so far to implement the court’s ruling that the blanket ban on prisoners voting must end was a breach of international law.

At the same time, he said that any attempt by Britain to pull out from the European Convention on Human Rights could set the UK on the path to leaving the European Union altogether.

However, Lord Judge expressed concern that Judge Spielmann was claiming too much power for a body of unelected judges whose decisions could not be overruled.

“This is a court which is not answerable to anybody,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“If it’s right, it can’t be overruled by anybody. I genuinely don’t think that a body of judges – however distinguished – should have that sort of power.”

Lord Judge, who described himself as a supporter of the convention, said the court’s claims had implications for the sovereignty of every nation in Europe – not just the UK – and he urged the Government to seek allies in trying to rein it in.

“His (Judge Spielmann’s) view means that the court in Europe is entitled to tell every country in Europe how it should organise itself,” he said.

“He refers to it as a living instrument. Of course the convention isn’t a dead instrument, but it means that legislation can be made by judges on all sorts of societal issues – binding legislation – and if that’s the position there is a very serious problem with sovereignty.

“It’s not a UK problem, the sovereignty issue affects every single country in Europe.”

He added: “It is time for us to recognise that it is a very important time. My own view is: stop here.”

Judge Spielmann, however, insisted that the UK should not defy the court’s ruling on prisoner voting rights.

“This would be clearly inconsistent with the international law obligations of the United Kingdom and also the obligations under the convention,” he told the Today programme.

He said that if Britain sought to pull out of the convention – as some Tory MPs are demanding – it would mean leaving the Council of Europe, the body which created the European Court of Human Rights, and ultimately the EU.

“I cannot see how the United Kingdom could remain a member of the Council of Europe while at the same time withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said.

“All the members of the European Union are also members of the Council of Europe. I can hardly see how a member of the European Union could withdraw from the Council of Europe. I see a problem there.

“I think from a political perspective it might be very difficult to stay in the European Union.”

Lord Judge acknowledged that there were differences among British judges as to what extent the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights were binding on the UK which MPs now needed to resolve.

“My very strong belief is that this issue now needs to be resolved by Parliament,” he said.

“The issue that is in play here is not the convention, it’s sovereignty .The most fundamental principle of our unwritten constitution is parliamentary sovereignty.

“Our elected representatives have ultimate sovereignty not only over our own unelected judges but in my view over the unelected judges of any other jurisdiction, including Europe, unless we choose to give them sovereignty.”

Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners criticised Lord Judge for making ‘what are in essence political statements’.

Mr Leech said: “It’s a bit rich for Lord Judge to criticise Judges in the European Court for not being elected – he is not elected either and unlike European Judges who play no part in the formal legislative process Judge is also a member of the House of Lords.

“Lord Judge is a political appointee in reality, appointed by the Queen but only on the recommendation of the Prime Minister – he should be apolitical and he would have done better to have criticised the Government for failing to implement the ECHR ruling on prisoner voting, instead of openly supporting the Prime Minister who put him where he is.

“Our senior Judges should not make what are in essence political statements while sitting on the bench – if he wants to become political resign from the bench and stand for parliament – until then he should button his judicial lip and not bring the judiciary into disrepute.”

Attorney General Warns Of ‘International Anarchy’ Over Prisoner Voting

dominic-grieve

Flouting European judges over prisoner voting would risk international “anarchy”, the Government’s chief law officer has warned.

Attorney General Dominic Grieve, above, said sticking to international rules could be “irksome” at times.

But it had been the “settled view” of British governments for centuries that such obligations should be met.

The intervention came in evidence to the parliamentary Joint Committee on prisoner voting.

The MPs and peers are considering how to respond to a European Court of Human Rights ruling against the UK’s blanket ban on convicted prisoners taking part in elections.

David Cameron has said that the idea of overturning the ban makes him “physically sick”, and the Commons overwhelmingly rejected the prospect in an indicative vote.

The committee has been asked to consider three options for a draft bill: giving the vote to convicted prisoners serving up to six months, giving it to those serving up to four years or keeping the existing blanket ban.

Mr Grieve said parliament had the power to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, or any other commitment.

“Many of these international legal obligations, they impose obligations on others which we think benefit the international order and indeed us,” he said.

“But at the same time they may at times impose obligations on us.

“That obligation may at times be irksome.

“You can always withdraw from an obligation by leaving a treaty or denouncing it.

“But while you are adhering to it, it seems to me that one has to think very carefully about what the consequences are in deciding that you can cherrypick the obligations that you are going to accept.

“Whilst it may be perfectly possible to disregard them you are creating a degree of anarchy in the international order that you are trying to promote.”

The Tory MP and QC – who personally argued the Government’s case to the court – said it would be “no slight matter” to ignore the ruling.

“You can’t expect to be able to get other countries to observe international legal obligations if you choose not to,” he said.

Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, told the committee it would be impossible for the UK to leave the convention on human rights and remain a member of the council.

He warned that Britain’s international influence would be diminished if it decided to go for the “nuclear possibility” of not complying with the ruling, and the whole ECHR system would be compromised.

“The implications for the Council of Europe would be… that other countries will start to do the same and it will be the beginning of the weakening of the whole convention system,” he said.

“If one says that we can pick and choose the judgments that we want to execute, then others will say exactly the same and then this convention will be another convention, for instance like they have in the United Nations.

“They are very weak.

“They are there but there is no enforcement of the standards.

“If you start to pick and choose the judgments from the court of course the court will be weakened and in the end have no meaning.”

Mr Jagland added: “The impact for Britain as I see it would be negative.

“It would harm UK reputation and influence in Europe and in the world.

“Can you imagine what would happen if the UK as the founding father of this institution is to leave it?”

Mr Jagland said: “Europe cannot afford to let the UK leave the whole convention system, which is so important.

“None of us should put that to the (test).

“We should try to avoid it.”

The strength of the ECHR was that individual citizens from member states were able to petition it on points of law, he said.

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said the issue of prisoner voting brought into focus the sharp distinction between political reality and rhetoric.

Mr Leech said: “Politicians of every colour continually tell us they want to reduce reoffending, they want to help those in prison to lead law-abiding lives both in custody and after release, in fact there is a large notice to that exact effect pinned to the front gate of every prison in the country.

“And yet, when you try and see the translation of that theory into practice it falls at the first hurdle by refusing prisoners the ability to vote, excluding them from society, refusing to follow the judgment of the highest human rights court in Europe, a court the UK has signed up to and in which we played a central part in creating – criminal justice policies on rehabilitation are, sadly, shown to be nothing more than a sham.”

Prisoner Votes in Supreme Court Tomorrow

ballot-box

The Sunday Times report that the government’s most senior legal officer is to make an unprecedented appearance before Britain’s highest court to oppose a bid by a child rapist and a murderer to win the right to vote in elections.

In a case starting tomorrow, Dominic Grieve, the attorney-general, will argue in the Supreme Court that parliament, rather than Europe, should decide prisoners’ voting rights.

Grieve’s decision to fight the case in person — the first time an attorney-general has appeared in the Supreme Court since it was established in 2009 — is a clear sign of the government’s concern about the claim, the latest round of Britain’s fight with Europe over prisoners’ votes.

George McGeoch, who befriended a deaf man and then murdered him by slashing his throat, and Peter Chester, who raped and strangled his seven-year-old niece, are using European law to claim the right to vote.

Experts are concerned that, if the claim is successful, it could hamper attempts by the government to give parliament the opportunity to assert its power over prisoners’ votes.

Parliament is to vote on whether to defy a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that a blanket ban on prisoner voting has to end. MPs will be given the option of maintaining the blanket ban or introducing some voting rights.

McGeoch’s lawyers, however, plan to invoke European Union laws, which are separate from the human rights convention overseen by the Strasbourg judges.

Chester is seeking the right to vote in parliamentary and European elections. McGeoch claims he should be allowed to vote in European and Scottish parliamentary elections.

The European laws, unlike the convention, can be directly enforced by British courts without being subject to parliament. If McGeoch is successful, it could undermine the parliamentary vote and provoke fresh demands for powers to be repatriated from the EU.

Dominic Raab, the Tory MP for Esher and Walton and a former Foreign and Commonwealth Office lawyer, said: “The fact that the attorney-general is defending the case shows how serious an assault on our democracy it is.

“The EU’s backdoor attempt to dictate human rights to Britain is dangerous . . . and will strengthen calls for a wholesale renegotiation of British terms of [EU] membership. It is a battle we must win.”

McGeoch, 41, originally from Glasgow, was jailed for life in 1999 after he beat and smothered Eric Innes, a bakery worker, before slitting his throat. Since then he has held prison nurses hostage with a blade, slashed a fellow prisoner with broken glass and once escaped from custody.

Chester, from Blackpool, Lancashire, was handed a life sentence in 1978 for killing his niece at his sister’s home.

In 2009, he made an unsuccessful legal challenge to the ban on prisoner voting. In his ruling, the judge said the bid was “offensive to constitutional principles”.

However, European judges have refused to back down in the face of Britain’s defiance over votes for prisoners. Last week, Dean Spielmann, the president of the Strasbourg court, was highly critical of the British failure to implement its rulings.

“Such an attitude . . . undermines the whole system and it causes great damage to the credibility of the UK when it comes to promoting human rights in other parts of the world,” he told the BBC.

A government spokesman said: “The government has made its position on prisoner voting rights absolutely clear — we believe prisoner voting is a matter for national parliaments to decide.

“The attorney-general will strongly defend that position at the Supreme Court.”

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners said the Supreme Court ‘should put the Goverment in its place”.

Mr Leech said: “In the same way that prison officers intervene to free a prison officeer taken hostage, so too should the Surpeme Court intervene and free the issue of prisoner voting which has been unlawfully taken hostage by successive governments.

“The UK is a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights, and Judges of the ECHR have made clear the UK should either implement judgements of the ECHR or get out of the European Court altogether.

“The Supreme Court should put the Goverment in its place and tell it to implement the judgement on prisoner voting which politicians have disgracefully ignored now for eight years.”

ECHR SHOULD RESPECT VOTE BAN

The European Court of Human Rights should respect Britain’s “sensible and proportionate” ban on prisoners voting, Labour said today as the Government prepared to offer Parliament a fresh say on the issue.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is to publish draft legislation on Thursday setting out three options, including a retention of the outright ban ruled illegal by the court in 2005.

That is a day before the deadline to comply with the ruling set by officials at the ECHR in Strasbourg, which has the power to issue fines for any breach.

Last February, the Commons called by an overwhelming margin of 234 to 22 for the blanket ban to be maintained and David Cameron has flatly ruled-out defying parliamentary opinion.

The Prime Minister told MPs last month that he was happy to introduce legislation to “help put the legal position beyond doubt”.

“But no-one should be in any doubt: prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government,” he vowed.

Mr Grayling insists Parliament can reject the ECHR’s ruling – despite concerns raised by Attorney General Dominic Grieve that Britain is under an international legal obligation.

But he admits there would be “consequences” for the UK.

The draft legislation – which will not be voted on this week – is expected to offer three options: votes for prisoners who have been imprisoned for up to four years, for up to six months or the status quo.

The ECHR says individual countries can decide which prisoners should be denied the right to vote from jail, but cannot impose a blanket exclusion.

Tory MP Peter Bone welcomed what he said was “the Government for the first time… saying Parliament’s decisions will overrule the European Court”.

He added: “The British people want Parliament to be supreme, ignore this Mickey Mouse European Court.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said a vote on legislation would strengthen the UK’s argument that it should retain its ban – which is backed by Labour.

“You have to keep going back to the European Court on this because I think the job of the European Court is to look at what is proportionate, what is responsible,” she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.

“We haven’t passed laws on this before, even though we have passed motions, and I think when we do so, the European Court should look at it again.”

British courts operated on the basis of assessing whether Parliament was acting in a “responsible and proportionate” way, she said.

“I think the European Court should take the same thing into account.”

But speaking on the same programme, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said ignoring a ruling of the court would leave Britain unable to criticise countries which flout the rules and summarily lock up citizens.

He said: “We elected Parliament to take decisions on British law, we signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights after the Second World War, we have consistently supported the European Convention.

“If you say total defiance of the European Court of Human Rights, your influence criticising any other country that breach the European Court of Human Rights is zero.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Is it wise for the Government to flout international law, face a substantial fine and millions in mounting compensation claims, ignore the advice of its Attorney General, prison governors, bishops to, and inspectors of, prison, and take up Parliamentary time and taxpayers’ money in order to stop sentenced prisoners from acting responsibly by voting in democratic elections?

“People are sent to prison to lose their liberty not their identity. A 19th-century penalty of civic death makes no sense in a 21st-century prison system whose focus is on rehabilitation, resettlement and the prevention of re-offending.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The Government is considering how best to proceed following the judgment of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.

“An announcement will be made to Parliament shortly.”

Sean Humber, a lawyer who represents 500 prisoners pursuing compensation from the Government through the ECHR over being denied the vote, said it was “a matter of shame” that the UK has ignored the court’s rulings.

Mr Humber, a partner at Leigh Day and Co solicitors, said: “The Government is already facing claims for compensation running into the millions for refusing to allow serving prisoners the vote.

“Simply allowing Parliament to vote on a limited range of unsatisfactory options that would still leave all or many prisoners without the vote is unlikely to satisfy the court or stave off further costly legal action.

“The Government, from the Prime Minister downwards, must now take the lead in bringing the UK’s unlawful action to an end by voting to give all prisoners the vote.

“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.”