Prisoners could be granted the right to vote for the first time after the British government appeared to finally concede to demands from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The court in Strasbourg has been calling on the UK to give inmates a say for the past 12 years.
Britain has repeatedly refused to comply. However, reports suggest that David Lidington, the justice secretary, is now prepared to consider lifting the blanket ban to placate Britain’s European neighbors.
Under the proposals, only a small number of prisoners would be granted voting rights, however.
Those who are serving less than 12 months and qualify for day release would be allowed to cast a ballot. This would confer the right to vote on as few as 100 prisoners.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) decision could prove wildly unpopular and provoke a backlash among MPs, particularly among those who think that prison life is too easy in Britain.
In recent years, a number of prisoners have sought compensation from the government, arguing it is their “human right” to cast a vote. The ECHR refused to grant costs to 10 claimants in respect of their cases, despite ruling Britain had breached the European Convention on Human Rights.
According to the Convention, prisoners do have the right to vote. The ECHR first ruled in 2005 that the UK blanket-ban on prisoner voting must be amended. The 2005 case was brought by convicted killer John Hirst, who has since been released after serving 25 years in jail. Later cases were brought in 2009 and 2011.
In 2015, the ECHR said it is lawful to prevent anyone who has committed serious crimes from voting. Then-prime minister David Cameron said the thought of prisoners voting made him feel “physically ill” and refused to budge.
Last month, RT UK revealed that prison authorities have been unable to stem the flow of mobile phones into jails as inmates sit up all night taking part in live Q&As on social media. Some even developed ‘fan’ following on Periscope.
Peter Bone, the Conservative MP for Wellingborough, told the Sunday Times: “I’m not in favor of letting prisoners vote. I find it extraordinary. It’s a bonkers decision. I think a lot of MPs will be concerned about this.”
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, however, backs the court’s stance.
“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 in the end, we have to support the position of the European Court of Human Rights,” Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
Governments of the 47 members of the Council of Europe have ignored rulings in 9,944 judgements dating back to 1992, according to the Council’s database.
There are currently 19 non-EU members of the ECHR.
Brexit has no implications for the UK’s relationship with the Strasbourg-based court and the European Convention on Human Rights.
A government spokeswoman refused to comment on “speculation.”