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UK top court rejects prisoner voting rights

The Supreme Court of UK [official website] on Wednesday upheld [judgment, PDF] the Representation of the People Act of 1983 [text], which prohibits inmates from casting votes. The challenge [case materials] was brought by Peter Chester and George McGeoch, two inmates who are serving life sentences for murder. The seven judges unanimously rejected the claims that European law gives them the right to vote. The court reasoned that all criminal law has "an important demonstrative function" and demonstrates that imprisonment is "more than deprivation of liberty." The court also noted that the only remedy available to the inmates would be a recognition that the ban is inconsistent with the European Union law. Opponents criticized the ban as a violation of human rights law, while proponents, including Prime Minister David Cameron, praised the ruling as "victory for common sense."

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 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] agreed, ruling [judgment, PDF] that the ban breached Hirst's human rights. In March 2011 the UK government commenced legal measures to overturn an ECHR ruling [JURIST reports] that declared the UK's ban as unlawful. The government requested that the ECHR decision in Greens and MT v. the United Kingdom [judgment] be appealed to the Grand Chamber [official website] of the court, believing it may reverse the precedent that grants prisoners the right to vote. In February 2011 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.

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