European Rights Court Rules UK Prisoner Voting Ban Breaches Human Rights

Ted S. Warren / AP

Britain's ban on prisoners voting breaches their human rights, a top European court ruled on Tuesday, its latest ruling in an ongoing tussle that has riled British politicians hostile to EU human rights laws.

Disagreement between Britain and the European Court of Human Rights has previously played into strong anti-European Union sentiment in Britain at a time when its ties to the 28-member bloc are being increasingly questioned.

The ruling concluded a case brought to the court by a group of 10 British prisoners who argued that the ban breached their right to free elections under European Union law.

They had been unable to vote in elections to the European Parliament in 2009 because they were serving their prison sentences. British law prohibits prisoners from voting in national and European elections.

The Strasbourg-based court agreed that denying prisoners the right to vote was a breach of human rights but rejected their claim for damages, saying that the conclusion that their rights had been breached was sufficient. It also rejected their claim for the reimbursement of legal costs.

The court already ruled against Britain on its ban on prisoners voting in similar cases in 2010 and 2005.

In December 2013 a parliamentary committee recommended giving some prisoners the right to vote, but the government has so far not brought forward any legislation.

"It makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison," Prime Minister David Cameron said in 2010.

Although the Strasbourg court is not an institution of the EU, it has angered the ruling Conservatives who adopt a tough line on crime and see its judgments as a threat to British sovereignty.

Britain's interior minister, Theresa May, has suggested that the Conservatives could pledge that if they win the 2015 election, Britain will pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights which the Strasbourg court enforces.