European officials have criticised the British government for not allowing prisoners to vote and given it a year to come up with a plan to implement the demand.
The Council of Europe expressed “profound concern” that the ban remains in place and reaffirmed the UK’s obligation to abide by a decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
It is ten years since the ECHR first ruled against Britain’s blanket ban on prisoner voting, and a series of cases and reports since then have reaffirmed its stance.
Now the Council of Europe, which enforces ECHR rulings, has given the UK until next December to explain how it will implement the ruling.
The Times reports that justice minister Dominic Raab has insisted the UK will not adopt the measure, although he also said Britain did not want to clash with Europe. The strategy, he said, is to “ease this issue off the agenda” and there is no need for a “tectonic clash — we don’t need to fall out over it”.
The UK parliament voted in 2011 to maintain the ban on prisoners voting despite the ECHR ruling. However, the government set up a parliamentary inquiry a year later under pressure from Europe to review the law.
That inquiry led to a cross-party report calling for prisoners serving sentences shorter than 12 months to be given the vote, but no vote has ever been held on the proposal.
Ministers are due to publish a so-called British Bill of Rights in the coming year which will try to supersede European human rights law and put Britain beyond the jurisdiction of the ECHR.
In 2005, the EHCR ruled in favour of convicted killer John Hirst, who said the blanket ban violated the human rights of prisoners.
In October, a French convicted murder appealed to the ECHR claiming his own country’s ban on prisoner voting violated his human rights. Although the court ruled that the ban was proportionate in his case, it implied that there may be cases when taking the vote from prisoners was not proportionate.