The UK government on Tuesday commenced legal measures to overturn [written answers] a controversial European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruling [JURIST report] that declared the UK's ban on prisoner voting rights unlawful. The government requested that the ECHR decision [press release, PDF] in Greens and MT v. the United Kingdom [judgment text] be appealed to the Grand Chamber [official website] of the court, believing it may reverse the precedent that grants prisoners the right to vote. Greens, a UK prisoner convicted of rape, commenced an appeal [BBC report] last week to ensure his right to vote before the upcoming May elections. A panel of five judges will ultimately decide whether to refer the decision to the Grand Chamber. Last month, the UK House of Commons [official website] voted to reject the ECHR ruling [JURIST report] and continue preventing prisoners from voting in British elections. The UK plans to argue [BBC report] that the court should consider the vote and clarify the contradictory case law. In the written answer, Cabinet Office Minister Mark Harper [official profile] said:
The Government has requested that the court's judgment in the "Greens and MT" case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) - the highest tier of the ECHR. If the Grand Chamber agrees to the referral, they will look again at the judgment and issue their opinion. The basis of the Government's referral request is that we believe that the court should look again at the principles in "Hirst" which outlaws a blanket ban on prisoners voting, particularly given the recent debate in the House of Commons. The referral request also points out the need for clarity in the ECHR's case law in this area.The controversy over UK prisoner voting rights stems from a 2005 case filed by John Hirst, who had been sentenced to life in prison for killing his landlord. Hirst claimed he should be able to vote while in prison and the ECHR agreed, ruling [judgment] that the Representation of the People Act of 1983 [text] breached Hirst's human rights.
The recent disagreement [BBC report] with the ECHR invoked outrage in the UK and generated proposals for a British Bill of Rights by various members of the British government. Last week, former UK Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf warned that a British Bill of Rights would conflict [JURIST report] with the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], which the UK has incorporated into its law. While the government has not stated an intention to withdraw from the convention, Woolf has warned that continued adherence to the convention combined with the creation of a British Bill of Rights would create complications for judges in determining which to follow and further the existing conflict between the UK and the ECHR. The UK currently incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into its law, but the ECHR has the final interpretation. Also in February, UK think tank Policy Exchange [think tank website] called for the UK to withdraw from the ECHR [text, PDF; JURIST report] in favor of a domestic high court. The report proposes that the UK to try to negotiate reforms with the court to limit its jurisdiction, and, if unsuccessful, suggests that the UK consider withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the ECHR altogether. Following, the Supreme Court in London would be the final appellate court for human rights law, with no right to appeal to the ECHR.