Italy, UK ask EU court to let states rule on prisoner rights

2nd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain and Italy asked the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday to allow individual states to legislate on prisoner voting rights, rather than be ruled by Europe.

Their joint request was prompted by the case of Franco Scoppola, a 71-year-old Italian who lost his right to vote under a law that automatically strips all Italians given a prison sentence of at least five years of their vote.

In January the ECHR condemned the "automatic" and "indifferent" nature of the law in response to an appeal by Scoppola, who is demanding that his rights be reinstated.

But Italian legal representative Paula Accardo asked the court to revoke its decision.

Stripping prisoners of all right to vote was only for cases "of a certain gravity" said Accardo, adding that Italians can apply to "recover their voting rights" three years after a prison sentence ends.

"Choosing to use a system that specifically deprives prisoners of their right to vote rather than another system -- provided obviously that it respects the general principles of the court -- must be left within the scope of interpretation of individual states," she said.

Accardo's arguments were supported by British Attorney General Dominic Grieve who said that prisoner voting was "perhaps the best example by far in the context of which the Court should apply the margin and not follow the road of seeking to impose restricting uniform solutions."

"The view that a sensitive issue of social policy of this count should be decided by national parliaments is entirely consistent with the jurisprudence of this court."

The ECHR intervened in two similar cases in Britain in 2005 and 2010, also condemning the British system for automatically stripping prisoners of voting rights.

In February, rather than conforming to the Strasbourg rulings, as is normally obligatory, British MPs responded by overwhelmingly voting a motion opposing any change to the status quo.

The ECHR decision on the Scoppola case will likely interest other European nations with similar legal systems who object to the precedence of EU law.

Britain will escape sanctions until judges make a final ruling.

© 2011 AFP

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