Europe court lets states decide on inmate voting bans

22nd May 2012, Comments 0 comments

European countries should be left to decide if prisoners can vote in elections, but blanket disenfranchisement regardless of the crime is unfair, Europe's top rights court said Tuesday.

The ruling from the European Court of Human Rights is likely to provoke renewed anger among some British lawmakers, including Prime Minister David Cameron, because judges gave Britain just six months to overhaul its all-encompassing prisoner voting ban.

The court examined two cases stemming from a provision under the European Convention on Human Rights that enshrines the right to free elections.

In one case, Franco Scoppola, an Italian who was convicted of killing his wife and injuring one of his sons, sued after he was stripped of his vote.

But under Italian law, prisoners only lose their voting rights if they are convicted of certain offences or sentenced to at least three years in prison.

"There was, therefore, no general, automatic, indiscriminate (disenfranchisement)," the court ruled.

In the British case, which dates back to 2005 and had previously been scrutinised by the court, judges found the country's blanket voting ban on anyone in prison violated European law. The case was filed by convicted axe-killer John Hirst.

Britain in 2010 said it would update its laws but has so far failed to do so, the court found.

Judges gave Britain six months to draft legislation to amend the law. Failure to do so could lead to massive fines.

British lawmakers have previously said they were deeply unhappy with giving prisoners the right to vote, but concede they must comply with the European court, which has 47 member states.

© 2012 AFP

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