Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

MPs 'to back ban on prisoner votes'

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said the Government could not defy the law and would have to allow some prisoners to vote
MPs are expected to exhort the UK Government to defy the European Court of Human Rights and refuse to give the vote to prisoners

MPs are expected to exhort the Government to defy the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and refuse to give the vote to prisoners.

The Strasbourg court's highly contentious demand for an end to the blanket ban on inmates taking part in national and European elections is to be debated in the Commons.

The House is expected to overwhelmingly support a cross-party motion stating that the matter should be left to "democratically-elected lawmakers" and supporting the status quo.

It has been tabled by senior Tory MP David Davis and backed by Labour former home secretary Jack Straw as ministers wrestle with how best to deal with the ECHR ruling.

Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he saw "no reason" why prisoners should be given the vote. He has said in the past that the idea makes him feel "physically ill".

However, hundreds of prisoners have instigated claims for being denied the right to vote and the Government is facing potential compensation bills of more than £100 million. It has proposed to allow the vote to inmates serving less than four years, although there have been signs that that might be reduced still further.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has spoken repeatedly of doing "the minimum necessary" to comply with the law and said the Government will have to allow at least some prisoners to vote in future.

MPs opposed to giving prisoners the vote hope that by debating the matter and passing a motion rejecting the move will steel the Government's resolve and strengthen its hand with the ECHR. The Strasbourg court's judgment in October 2005 cited the fact that there had been no substantive debate of the ban, which was introduced in 1870.

Mr Cameron told the Commons he had "every sympathy" with Tory MP Priti Patel's "disdain" for the "unelected bureaucrats in Strasbourg".

"I see no reason why prisoners should have the vote. This is not a situation that I want this country to be in," he said. "I am sure that you will all have a very lively debate on Thursday, when the House makes its views known."

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