UK prisoners vote 'halfway house' dismissed by lawyer

By agency reporter
19 Dec 2013

The lawyer representing over 550 prisoners who are fighting for their right to vote has dismissed the recommendation from a cross-party parliamentary committee, that only a minority of prisoners should be given the vote, describing it as "a face-saving exercise for the Prime Minister".

The committee said that only those prisoners serving short sentences or approaching the end of their time behind bars should be allowed to vote.

In its report, the joint committee of both Houses set up to consider the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill added that it would be "wholly disproportionate" for the UK to defy a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights and said the Government had failed to set out a "plausible" case for maintaining the existing blanket ban.

Sean Humber, head of Human Rights at Leigh Day, who is currently acting for over 550 prisoners refused the vote in the May 2010 General Election, commented: “We are pleased that the Committee, unlike David Cameron, recognise that the current ban on prisoner voting is unlawful and that the UK cannot cherry pick the laws that it chooses to obey."

He continued: “In only recommending that some prisoners should get the vote, we are disappointed that the Committee has not had the courage of its convictions and recommended that all prisoners should be able to vote. This halfway house is illogical and arbitrary and appears more driven by political expediency than principle."

“We now need to see whether David Cameron will accept even these very modest proposals. Up until now, his stubborn refusal to grant prisoners the vote has left the UK on a collision course with the European Court of Human Rights, recklessly gambling millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money for his unlawful stance. It is increasingly clear that doing nothing is simply not an option,” said Mr Humber.

UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling last year published a draft bill offering MPs three options - giving the vote to prisoners serving less than four years, less than six months or keeping the ban.

But Prime Minister David Cameron has made clear he does not want to extend votes to prisoners, telling the Commons it would make him "physically ill".

* Leigh Day: http://www.leighday.co.uk/

[Ekk/3]

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