Current and former inmates of the U.K. prison system have had their voting rights breached multiple times, but are not entitled to compensation, according to a press release from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The court found on Tuesday that the rights of 1,015 prisoners to participate in elections had been violated in a case brought by lawyers representing current and former prisoners who were prevented from voting in various elections between 2009 and 2011. It declined the applicants' claim for either legal costs or compensation.
The Strasbourg court had claimed that they were denied the right to participate in elections to the European parliament in 2009, the U.K. parliamentary election in 2010, and the Scottish parliament, Welsh assembly, and Northern Irish assembly elections in 2011.
Sean Humber, who is representing 554 clients in the current case, told the Guardian: “We are in a position where the government appears to take a perverse pleasure in unlawfully breaching the human rights of thousands of its citizens. It should be extremely worrying to all of us that the government seems to have so little regard for its international human rights obligations or the rule of law.”
The U.K.’s ban on allowing inmates to vote has been termed illegal by the European court four times before. The first was in 2005 in the case of Hirst v. the U.K. The court ruled that it violated a protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which relates to the right to free elections.
Both the previous Labor government and the current coalition have unsuccessfully proposed and debated legislation that would end the U.K.’s long-running dispute with the ECHR. The coalition is not planning to take any further action on the issue until the U.K.'s general election in May.
Prime Minister David Cameron had previously said that the idea of allowing prisoners to vote made him “physically sick,” the Telegraph reported. His Conservative party has consistently stood against the issue, accusing the ECHR of undermining Britain’s legislative process.
Dominic Raab, Conservative member of parliament, said in August: “The Strasbourg court is heading for a collision course with Parliament because it is abusing its powers, by trying to usurp the role of elected law-makers,” the Telegraph reported.
"The government has always been clear that it believes prisoner voting is an issue that should ultimately be decided in the UK. However we welcome the court's decision to refuse convicted prisoners costs or damages," a Ministry of Justice spokesperson told the BBC.