Britain Still in Contempt of Court

Britain was “strongly urged” today to allow prisoners to vote at the general election. Officials at the Council of Europe “reiterated their serious concern” that the government’s failure to implement a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights would lead to large numbers of claims by disenfranchised prisoners.

Ministers’ deputies – the ambassadors to the Council of Europe who supervise the execution by member states of judgments by the Human Rights court – adopted a strongly worded resolution today.

Referring to a judgment delivered as long ago as October 2005, the deputies noted that the court’s grand chamber had found that the “general, automatic and indiscriminate restriction on the right of convicted prisoners in custody to vote fell outside any acceptable margin of appreciation and was incompatible with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the convention”.

The deputies recalled a motion adopted last December in which the Committee of Ministers had “expressed serious concern that the substantial delay in implementing the judgment has given rise to a significant risk that the next United Kingdom general election… will be performed in a way that fails to comply with the Convention”. The ministers had urged the United Kingdom to “rapidly adopt measures to implement the judgment”.

Despite that, they noted today, the “automatic and indiscriminate restriction remains in force”.

The deputies 

  • reiterated their serious concern that a failure to implement the court’s judgment before the general election and the increasing number of persons potentially affected by the restriction could result in similar violations affecting a significant category of persons, giving rise to a substantial risk of repetitive applications to the European Court; and
  • strongly urged the authorities to rapidly adopt measures, of even an interim nature, to ensure the execution of the court’s judgment before the forthcoming general election.

Ultimately, though, there is little more they can do. The forthcoming election will not be invalid or illegal. But it doesn’t exactly make you be proud of a country that not only denies its citizens their human rights but chooses not to do anything about it. 

So much for the government’s promise that it always implements the court’s rulings.

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