The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that prisoners who have not been allowed to vote, should not be paid compensation. This ruling is significant, for had it been declared that being deprived of the right to vote warranted compensation, the government would have had to authorise payouts across the board. The court did declare that depriving prisoners of the right to vote is a violation of their human rights but said there was no pressing need to pay the prisoners additional compensation, nor were the claimants awarded legal costs.
The history of prisoner voting has caused friction between the UK government and Europe. The mainstream parties support the ban on prisoners voting, with David Cameron stating that prisoners would never get the vote under his leadership. Equally, Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan deemed the deprivation of the right to vote as part and parcel of losing one’s liberty. Europe and Britain have locked horns before on this issue, with the ECHR ruling in 2004 that Britain’s ban was ‘unlawful’. Notwithstanding this, successive UK governments have refused to comply with this ruling. In 2011, MP’s voted to keep the ban on prisoner voting. This runs counter to a recent poll taken on The Justice Gap website, where 57% of respondents said that prisoners should be allowed to vote.
Britain’s stance on prisoner voting has been long established, as is Europe’s. Therefore, it is not surprising that the ECHR ruled that depriving prisoners of the right to vote is a human rights violation. The UK government breathed a sigh of relief when they discovered they would not be liable to pay compensation to prisoners, but nonetheless, the issue of prisoner voting rumbles on. In December 2013, a cross-party committee of MPs determined that prisoners serving a jail term of a year or less could be entitled to vote, but this was never made law. Isabelle Sankey of Liberty urged the government to listen to its own cross-committee, and ‘remove the blanket ban on prisoner voting’. As it stands, all prisoners, regardless of the seriousness of their crime, cannot vote. This has been the position since 1969.