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.

European Court Rules Whole Life Sentences Lawful

Arthur Hutchinson
Arthur Hutchinson

Triple killer Arthur Hutchinson, who murdered three members of the same family in Sheffield, has lost his challenge at the European Court of Human Rights against his whole-life prison sentence.

The judgment is the latest development in the protracted legal wrangle over “life means life” terms.

Hutchinson was jailed in 1984 for stabbing wealthy couple Basil and Avril Laitner to death after breaking into their Sheffield home on the night of their daughter’s wedding, then killing one of their sons.

He was the first Briton to challenge the sentence after a controversial ruling by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in July 2013 that whole-life tariffs breach human rights.

The Strasbourg-based court held that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which relates to inhuman and degrading treatment – on the basis that whole-life orders were not “reducible”.

The court did not say whole-life sentences were incompatible with the convention, but said there had to be the possibility of a review at some stage and that current laws allowing for release in exceptional circumstances were unclear.

But judges ruled on Tuesday that in Hutchinson’s case there was no violation of Article 3 as the Secretary of State has the power to review whole-life sentences.

Court of Appeal judges ruled last year that the Grand Chamber was wrong when it said the law of England and Wales did not clearly provide for “reducibility”, saying the domestic law “is clear as to ‘possible exceptional release of whole-life prisoners'”.

They underlined the power given to the secretary of state to release a prisoner on licence if he is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist which justify the prisoner’s release on compassionate grounds.

In Tuesday’s judgment the European judges found by a majority that they consider the legal situation in the UK to be in line with human rights laws.

In their written ruling, they said: “In the circumstances of this case where, following the Grand Chamber’s judgment in which it expressed doubts about the clarity of domestic law, the national court has specifically addressed those doubts and set out an unequivocal statement of the legal position, the court must accept the national court’s interpretation of domestic law.”

Mark Leech editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said he was disappointed by the ruling.

Mr Leech said: “I wish they had been more courageous, there were grounds for doing so, but I suspect they were concerned not to increase the already trenchant criticism of the ECHR interferring in UK domestic matters.”

The list of whole-lifers includes some of the most notorious prisoners in Britain, including one-eyed police killer Dale Cregan, who lured Pcs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone to their deaths in a gun and grenade attack; Mark Bridger, who murdered five-year-old April Jones; and Moors murderer Ian Brady.

Six years ago, Hutchinson had a domestic appeal against whole-life tariffs kicked out by the Court of Appeal.

The judge in his original 1984 trial at Sheffield Crown Court ruled that he should serve 18 years but then-home secretary Leon Brittan later ruled he should face the whole-life tariff.