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UK parliament defies Europe on prison votes

UK parliament defies Europe on prison votes
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Britain’s parliament has backed a motion to refuse prisoners the right to vote, putting the government on a potential collision course with the European Court of Human Rights.

The motion passed by 234 votes to 22, a majority of 212.

A blanket ban on sentenced inmates being allowed to vote has been in place since 1870 but in 2005 the Strasbourg court ruled that this is contrary to the European convention on human rights. It gave the British government until this summer to pass more relaxed legislation. Hundreds of pending claims by prisoners have run up a potential compensation bill to the government of up to 100 million euros.

The government had proposed giving the vote to prisoners serving sentences of less than four years. But MPs from across the political divide backed Thursday’s motion to reject the European court’s ruling. The motion passed by 234 votes to 22, a majority of 212. It is effectively a warning to the government that parliament will not pass any new legislation that softens the rules and provides for compensation payments.

The argument given by those who support the current voting ban is that it is an appropriate part of a criminal’s punishment. But there are wider issues at stake, such as the sovereignty of parliament. David Davis, an MP who co-tabled the motion, told Sky News:

“It tells the government that parliament does not want to change our law; it wants it exactly as it is now – therefore it cannot abide by one of the demands of the (European) court.

“And the only thing left for the government to do is to…take that vote, and go back to the European Court and say ‘parliament doesn’t agree with you, we are a democracy, we’re not a dictatorship. we can’t tell Parliament what to do, think again’.”

The law on prisoners’ voting rights differs across Europe. Some countries such Spain and Sweden do not have a ban, while others including France and Germany have certain restrictions.

Some states in the US still impose a lifelong voting ban for convicted felons.