Creating a fairer Britain
10 December 2009
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has backed the European Committee of Ministers’ criticism of the UK Government for its failure to implement the Hirst decision.
The Committee, which supervises the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, expressed “serious concern” about the Government’s delay in implementing the judgment in which the European Court ruled that the complete removal of voting rights from serving prisoners was unlawful and violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
The failure by the UK Government to implement the decision means that it is likely that the next general election will breach the European Convention.
The Commission had made submissions to the Committee arguing that the failure to implement the judgment showed a lack of respect for the UK’s obligations under international law by leaving prisoners unlawfully disenfranchised.
John Wadham, Group Legal Director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
“When the European Court makes a decision it is incumbent on the government to ensure that decision becomes part of domestic law. It is disappointing that the government is still dragging its heels on implementing a decision that was made more than five years ago, especially in light of a looming general election.
“ The government should look at the issue as a matter of urgency and comply with its obligations under international law.”
For more press information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.
For general enquiries please contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610 / Scotland 0845 604 5510 / Wales 0845 604 8810
Convicted prisoners are currently barred by section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 from voting in parliamentary or local elections. Mr Hirst, a former prisoner at HM Prison Rye Hill, Warwickshire, challenged this law. In 2005 the case went before the European Court of Human Rights. The Court found that the general, automatic and indiscriminate restriction on the right of convicted prisoners in custody to vote was incompatible with Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This Article provides that “The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature”.
The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.