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Playing for Time: Prisoner Disenfranchisement under the ECHR after Hirst v United Kingdom

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Abstract:

Over five years ago, in Hirst v UK (No. 2), the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found that the Representation of the People Act 1983 breached the right of prisoners to vote under Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Nonetheless, this often misunderstood decision did not require the United Kingdom to enfranchisement of all prisoners, but instead gave it the opportunity to reform its disproportionate blanket ban on prisoners voting. This article examines Hirst, assessing the reasons behind the Grand Chamber?s cautious approach and the stalled reform process which it set in train. After Hirst, however, the Labour Government relied upon extended consultations to delay law reform for the remainder of its time in office. With the election of the Coalition Government a fresh opportunity arose to proceed with reform, although not one which the Conservative Party, as the senior Coalition partner, was eager to grasp. Conterminously, however, various sections of the Strasbourg Court finally lost patience with the vacillation of several countries, including the United Kingdom, over prisoner voting. In a series of decisions these sections sought to impose a broad measure of prisoner enfranchisement, although not always speaking with one voice as to the limits of the right to free and fair elections in this controversial context. This article considers the importance of these decisions both in terms of the divisions they indicate within the Strasbourg Court regarding the limits upon its supranational role and their implications for the ultimate shape of reform to the UK voting ban.

Keywords: COMMUNITARIANISM; DEMOCRACY; FRODL V AUSTRIA; GREENS AND MT V UK; HIRST V UK; MARGIN OF APPRECIATION; PRISONER DISENFRANCHISEMENT; SCOPPOLA V ITALY

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5235/096157611798456771

Publication date: October 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Until 2007 the King's Law Journal was known as the King's College Law Journal. It was established in 1990 as a legal periodical publishing scholarly and authoritative Articles, Notes and Reports on legal issues of current importance to both academic research and legal practice. It has a national and international readership, and publishes refereed contributions from authors across the United Kingdom, from continental Europe and further afield (particularly Commonwealth countries and USA). The journal includes a Reviews section containing critical notices of recently published books.
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