Liberty concerned about 'huffing and puffing' over prisoners' votes

By staff writers
May 23, 2012

The European Court of Human Rights has challenged governments to clarify their exclusions to prisoner voting in elections - and human rights advocates say that a proper debate is now needed at Westminster on the issue.

Yesterday's Grand Chamber judgement, on 22 May 2012, came in the case of Scoppola v. Italy, (No 3) (application no. 126/05), which is final.

It held, by a majority, that there had been no violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections) to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned the applicant’s disenfranchisement following his criminal conviction. The Court found that the disenfranchisement of convicted prisoners provided for under Italian law was not like the general, automatic, indiscriminate measure that led it to find a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 in the Hirst (No. 2) v. the United Kingdom case. Italian law took care to adapt the measure to the particular circumstances of a case, particularly the length of the sentence.

Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy for the prominent civil rights group Liberty, commented: "After all the political hot-air and raised tempers over prisoner voting, this judgment shows that whilst the Court of Human Rights must uphold core values against blanket and irrational Victorian laws, it will allow individual countries a great deal of discretion about how best to apply human rights at home."

She added: "The House of Commons huffed and puffed but the Court had no intention of blowing its House down. Perhaps we can now have a more rational domestic debate about what prisoner voting bans really achieve and if and when they might be appropriate?"

Human rights advocates say that prison should not exclude people from society using restrictions which are not part of court judgments.


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