Prime Minister David Cameron said he’ll allow the U.K. Parliament to vote again to bar prisoners from voting in elections, in a move designed to quash a judgment by a European court.
“No one should be in any doubt: prisoners are not getting the vote under this government” Cameron told lawmakers in London today during his weekly question-and-answer session. “If it helps by having another vote in Parliament on another resolution to make absolutely clear, to help put the legal position beyond doubt, then I am very happy to do that.”
The top chamber of the European Court of Human Rights affirmed on May 22 previous rulings against Britain by a lower chamber for disenfranchising prisoners. A 2010 decision found that the U.K. hadn’t changed laws on prisoner voting to comply with a 2005 ruling that they violated the principle of free elections.
The U.K. Parliament voted last year against the right of the prisoners to cast ballots in elections. That motion was proposed by rank-and-file lawmakers, whereas a new vote would be on a government motion to give it clear legal authority.
“The prime minister was very clear that if someone goes to prison, they lose certain rights and one of those should be the right to vote,” Cameron’s spokesman Steve Field told reporters. “On this issue, parliament is sovereign.”
Earlier today, Attorney General Dominic Grieve suggested the government would need to change policy to comply with international obligations.
“The decision by the court places a duty on the United Kingdom as a signatory to the Council of Europe and to the European Convention to implement change to the Representation of the People Act in this area,” Grieve told a parliamentary committee hearing. “Exactly what the U.K. should do is not specified, and indeed it’s quite clear there’s a great deal of latitude in what the United Kingdom can do.”
Cameron told lawmakers in November 2010 that “it makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison.”
The court in Strasbourg, France, gave the U.K. six months in May to set out plans to comply with its judgment. While it accepted the U.K.’s argument that countries should have “wide discretion” on how they implement the ban, it said, “general, automatic and indiscriminate disenfranchisement of all serving prisoners, irrespective of the nature or gravity of their offenses,” isn’t compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The Tory-led government’s sheer confusion this morning over whether prisoners will or won’t get the vote is yet another illustration of the ridiculously shambolic way they are running our country,” Sadiq Khan, the justice spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said in an e-mailed statement. “The public will be rightly concerned at reports prisoners could get a vote. If true, thousands of those serving sentences for serious and violent crimes such as wounding, assault and domestic violence would be given a say in who runs the country.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at firstname.lastname@example.org; Thomas Penny in London at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at firstname.lastname@example.org