27 April 2005

Telegraph

Prisoners' right to vote appeal goes to Europe

(Filed: 27/04/2005)

The Government is appealing against a European ruling that prisoners should have the right to vote.

Britain is breaching human rights law by barring prisoners from casting their ballot, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg says.

The Government was forced to pay out £8,000 in costs and expenses to John Hirst who is serving a life sentence for manslaughter at an earlier hearing.

It is now appealing against the ruling at a hearing before a 17-judge Grand Chamber.

Britain's 1983 Representation of the People Act does not allow convicts to vote in parliamentary and local elections. Mr Hirst, 53, mounted a legal challenge when his application to register to vote was turned down.

The High Court rejected his claim that Section 3 of the act is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Britain is a signatory.

But his lawyers argued in Europe that he had the right to vote under the convention's guarantee to the "right to free elections", the "right to free expression" and "prohibition of discrimination".

The European judges delivered a unanimous verdict that denying a prisoner a vote does breach the "right to free elections" set out in the convention. There was therefore no need, they said, to pass judgment on the issues of free expression and discrimination.

Mr Hirst pleaded guilty on Feb 11, 1980, to a charge of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He was sentenced to "discretionary life imprisonment" and the tariff part of his term - the part relating to retribution and deterrence - expired on June 25, 1994.

But Mr Hirst remains in jail because the Parole Board says he could still present a risk of serious harm to the public.

A final verdict on the appeal will be delivered later this year.


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