UK & World News
Prisoners Lose Right To Vote Court Appeal
The Supreme Court has dismissed appeals by two prisoners for the right to vote in elections.
The UK's highest court turned down the appeals brought by Peter Chester and George McGeoch.
Chester, who is in his 50s, is serving life for raping and strangling his seven-year-old niece Donna Marie Gillbanks in Blackpool in 1977.
McGeoch, from Glasgow, is serving his life sentence at Dumfries prison for the 1998 murder of Eric Innes in Inverness.
The latest round of their legal battle against the ban preventing them from voting while in prison was rejected by seven Supreme Court justices in London.
Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, said: "Prisoners' voting is an emotive subject. Some people feel very strongly that prisoners should not be allowed to vote. And public opinion polls indicate that most people share that view."
There is still a "substantial majority against it", she said, adding: "It is not surprising therefore that in February 2011 elected Parliamentarians also voted overwhelmingly against any relaxation of the present law."
She said: "In such circumstances, it is incumbent upon the courts to tread delicately. Of course, in any modern democracy, the views of the public and Parliamentarians cannot be the end of the story.
"Democracy is about more than respecting the views of the majority. It is also about safeguarding the rights of minorities, including unpopular minorities."
Lord Sumption said: "In any democracy, the franchise will be determined by domestic laws which will define those entitled to vote in more or less inclusive terms."
"From a prisoner's point of view the loss of the right to vote is likely to be a very minor deprivation by comparison with the loss of liberty."
The Prime Minister David Cameron said on Twitter that the decision was a "great victory for common sense".
Chester is detained at Wakefield prison in West Yorkshire and the minimum term he was ordered to serve before becoming eligible to apply for parole has expired.
McGeoch received a minimum term of 13 years, but due to subsequent convictions - including taking two prison nurses hostage in a siege in 2001 - will not be considered for parole until 2015.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2005 that a blanket ban on serving prisoners going to the polls was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), relating to the right to free and fair elections.
The ruling said it was up to individual countries to decide which inmates should be denied the right to vote from jail, but that a total ban was illegal.
Mr Cameron has vowed that inmates will not be given voting rights under his administration and has said that the idea of giving prisoners the vote makes him "sick".
Under section three of the Representation of the People Act 1983, convicted prisoners are prevented from voting in parliamentary and local government elections - and under the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 a person is only entitled to vote in European parliamentary elections if he is entitled to vote in parliamentary elections.
In November the Government published the Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint committee of both Houses.
It has put forward three options - a ban for prisoners sentenced to four years or more, a ban for prisoners sentenced to more than six months and a re-statement of the existing ban.
Sean Humber, head of human rights at law firm Leigh Day, which currently represents more than 500 prisoners currently taking legal action through the European Court of Human Rights, said: "Over the last decade, the European Court of Human Rights have repeatedly found that the blanket ban on prisoner voting in the UK represents a breach of prisoners' human rights.
"As such, the UK Government remains morally and legally bound to take the necessary action to remedy the breach. Successive Governments have dragged their feet on this issue - doing as little as possible as slowly as possible."