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Europe rights court rules member states can decide which prisoners can vote

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment] Tuesday that member states have broad discretion in deciding which prisoners should get the right to vote, giving the UK six months to propose amendments to its laws. In the present case [press release, PDF], the court found that there was no violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF] when the Italian government refused to grant the right to vote to a convicted murderer. The UK government was allowed to intervene in the case after the ECHR found in 2005 that its blanket ban on voting rights for prisoners violated the Convention [JURIST report]. The court entered a judgment in November 2010 noting that there had been no change to the UK laws since the 2005 ruling and giving the UK government six months to present legislative proposals. The court later agreed to defer the start of that six-month period until after the ruling in the Italian case. The UK now has six months to propose changes [press release, PDF].

Last year UK lawmakers voted by an overwhelming majority not to lift the ban [JURIST report] on prisoners voting, setting up a potential conflict with the ECHR ruling. In October the UK's top judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Igor Judge [official profile], said that UK courts are not bound [JURIST report] by decisions from the ECHR. Speaking before the Lords Constitution Committee [official website], Judge suggested that while UK courts are not required to follow the ECHR, they should consider ECHR decisions when deciding cases. UK Supreme Court [official website] President Nicholas Phillips [official profile] countered Judge, saying that ECHR decisions will always control UK courts as long as the Human Rights Act of 1998 [text], which ratified the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], remains in effect.

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