EU Ruling on Prisoner Voting Set to Cause Headache for Cameron

Europe's highest court will decide on Tuesday whether or not to strip a French prisoner of the right to vote, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, on the eve of British Prime Minister David Cameron's speech at the Conservative party conference.

Judges at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg will decide whether France was right to ban a convicted criminal, Frenchman Thierry Delvigne, jailed for 12 years for murder, from voting in European elections. Delvigne argues that a ban on him voting violates EU law giving all EU citizens the right to take part in European elections.

A ruling in favor of Delvigne would set an EU precedent, according to the Financial Times newspaper, which would make the law superior to that of member states and could force Britain to give prisoners the right to vote in European elections.

There are reports that the court is likely to rule in favour of Delvigne. The court's advocate general was quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying that national governments have a right to set their election rules provided it does not "prescribe general, indefinite and automatic deprivation of the right to vote and stand as a candidate, without a sufficiently accessible possibility of review."

The ruling comes at an awkward time for Cameron amid unrest in his Conservative party over whether ministers will be free to campaign freely in the U.K.'s upcoming referendum on EU membership or will be bound by the government position to remain in the union. Issues surrounding Europe have long been divisive among British Conservatives and the issue often dogs the party conference, which takes place this week.

The generally pro-European Cameron has long been opposed to giving prisoners the vote, and has previously said the idea makes him "physically ill." In the past, Cameron has argued that divisions on the issue between Europe and Britain meant the country should break with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECHR)—a body that is separate to the EU.

A unnamed Downing Street source told the Daily Telegraph: "David Cameron has made clear that prisoners will not get the vote as long as he is prime minister. Nothing is going to change. He has made clear that the idea of them getting the vote makes him physically sick."

The ECHR has ruled against the U.K.'s blanket ban on giving convicted prisoners the vote four times in the past. However, as this week's case against France has been brought through the EU's highest court, and not the ECHR, the issue could still be enforced against Britain under the EU's charter of fundamental rights.

The U.K. is the only country in western Europe that enforces a blanket ban on prisoner voting.