European court decision on voting rights yet to be implemented

Commission intervenes on Government’s failure to implement European court's decision

25 January 2010

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has intervened in a case in the European Court of Human Rights which concerns whether prisoners should have the right to vote. 

The case was brought by Robert Greens, a prisoner at HM Prison Peterhead, after he was denied registration on the electoral register. Mr Greens is claiming that the Electoral Roll Officer’s refusal to enrol him violates his rights under Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Commission had earlier criticised the UK Government for failing to implement the judgment in the Hirst case in which the European Court ruled that the removal of voting rights from serving prisoners was unlawful.

The Commission has stated that the failure to implement the judgment in Hirst showed a lack of respect for the UK’s obligations under international law by leaving prisoners unlawfully disenfranchised.

John Wadham, Group Legal Director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“The UK Government cannot continue indefinitely with this serious breach of the Convention. Denying prisoners the right to vote is a denial of the very democratic principles upon which our society is built. 

“Over 100,000 prisoners missed the opportunity to vote since the European Court of Human Rights’ decision. Their disenfranchisement also may have affected the outcome of elections in some marginal constituencies.”

Ends

For more press information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610 / Scotland 0845 604 5510 / Wales 0845 604 8810

Notes to Editors

Hirst

Convicted prisoners are currently barred by section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 from voting in parliamentary or local elections. Mr Hirst, a former prisoner at HM Prison Rye Hill, Warwickshire, challenged this law. In 2005 the case went before the European Court of Human Rights. The Court found that the general, automatic and indiscriminate restriction on the right of convicted prisoners in custody to vote was incompatible with Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This Article provides that “The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature”.

The Commission

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.