Ruling 'a victory for common sense'
The Government made a "compelling and forceful" argument against giving prisoners the vote, David Cameron has said after two convicted murderers had their appeals thrown out.
The Prime Minister insisted the decision by the Supreme Court, the UK's highest court, was a "victory for common sense" and added it had "stood up for democracy".
Seven Supreme Court justices in London dismissed challenges brought by Peter Chester and George McGeoch, who have been fighting for the right to vote while behind bars.
Chester, who is in his 50s, is serving life for raping and strangling his seven-year-old niece Donna Marie Gillbanks in Blackpool in 1977.
McGeoch, from Glasgow, is serving his life sentence at Dumfries prison for the 1998 murder of Eric Innes in Inverness.
Speaking during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the Commons, Mr Cameron said the Attorney-General Dominic Grieve should be congratulated following the ruling.
He said: "Can I congratulate the Attorney-General on this excellent result?
"The Attorney-General fought this case himself in front of the Supreme Court.
"He made a compelling and forceful argument and it is a victory for common sense.
"My views on this are well known.
"I do not believe that prisoners should have the vote and I believe that it is a matter for this House of Commons (to decide whether they should have the vote).
"The Supreme Court today has stood up for common sense, it has stood up for democracy and it has made clear that it has nothing to do with the European Union and I think we can all rejoice at that result."
Chester is detained at Wakefield prison in West Yorkshire and the minimum term he was ordered to serve before becoming eligible to apply for parole has expired.
McGeoch received a minimum term of 13 years, but due to subsequent convictions, including taking two prison nurses hostage in a siege in 2001, will not be considered for parole until 2015.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2005 that a blanket ban on serving prisoners going to the polls was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), relating to the right to free and fair elections.
The European court said it was up to individual countries to decide which inmates should be denied the right to vote from jail, but that a total ban was illegal.
Chester, who is also known as Peter Chester Speakman, originally had his voting claims rejected by the High Court in 2009.
His challenge at the Supreme Court followed a decision by three Court of Appeal judges in December 2010 when it was argued on his behalf that the serious nature of his offence did not justify disenfranchising him, and to do so was "disproportionate" and violated his human rights.
Mr Cameron has vowed that inmates will not be given voting rights under his administration and has said that the idea of giving prisoners the vote made him ''sick''.
He told the House of Commons last year: ''No-one should be in any doubt: prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government.''
Under section three of the Representation of the People Act 1983, convicted prisoners are prevented from voting in parliamentary and local government elections - and under the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 a person is only entitled to vote in European parliamentary elections if he is entitled to vote in parliamentary elections.
In November, the Government published the Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint committee of both Houses.
It has put forward three options - a ban for prisoners sentenced to four years or more, a ban for prisoners sentenced to more than six months and a re-statement of the existing ban.
Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, said: "Prisoners' voting is an emotive subject.
"Some people feel very strongly that prisoners should not be allowed to vote.
"And public opinion polls indicate that most people share that view."
There is still a "substantial majority against it", she said, adding: "It is not surprising therefore that in February 2011, elected Parliamentarians also voted overwhelmingly against any relaxation of the present law."
Lady Hale said: "In such circumstances, it is incumbent upon the courts to tread delicately."
She said: "Of course, in any modern democracy, the views of the public and Parliamentarians cannot be the end of the story.
"Democracy is about more than respecting the views of the majority.
"It is also about safeguarding the rights of minorities, including unpopular minorities."
Lord Sumption said: "In any democracy, the franchise will be determined by domestic laws which will define those entitled to vote in more or less inclusive terms."
He pointed out: "The exclusion of convicted prisoners from the franchise is not a universal principle among mature democracies, but neither is it uncommon."
Lord Sumption said: "From a prisoner's point of view, the loss of the right to vote is likely to be a very minor deprivation by comparison with the loss of liberty."
Sean Humber, head of human rights at law firm Leigh Day, which currently represents more than 500 prisoners taking legal action through the European Court of Human Rights, said: " This Supreme Court judgment simply confirms the current position under UK and European Union law that prisoners in the UK do not have the right to vote.
"However, as the Supreme Court itself recognised, as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK also has obligations under international human rights law.
"Over the last decade, the European Court of Human Rights have repeatedly found that the blanket ban on prisoner voting in the UK represents a breach of prisoners' human rights.
"As such, the UK Government remains morally and legally bound to take the necessary action to remedy the breach.
"Successive Governments have dragged their feet on this issue - doing as little as possible as slowly as possible.
"David Cameron suggests that the prospect of giving prisoners the vote makes him feel physically ill.
"For a man with such an apparently delicate constitution, it is surprising that wilfully ignoring a succession of court rulings appears to have so little effect on him.
"My clients are frequently reminded that our legal system is not based on the principle that you only need to obey the laws you want and you can ignore the rest.
"The Government needs to practise what it preaches."
Mr Cameron's comments in PMQs came after a question from Tory Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal.
She asked the PM: "I had originally intended to raise the issue of the A14 with you but a really important announcement was made today by the Supreme Court, who unanimously turned down the appeal for prisoners' right (to vote).
"Also importantly, we asserted that it is the role for this Parliament to make the decision, rather than other (places).
"Can you assure (us) that we will not be voting for prisoners' rights in this Parliament?"
Lord Mance said both men "claim their rights have been and are being infringed by reason of their disenfranchisement from voting".
Chester's claim for judicial review was issued in December 2008 and related to voting in United Kingdom and European Parliamentary Elections. His 20-year tariff expired on October 1997, but the Parole Board has not yet found him suitable for release on licence.
McGeoch's claim for judicial review was issued in February 2011 and related to voting in local municipal and Scottish Parliamentary elections and relied solely on European Union law.
Lord Mance, who concluded that "the appellants are not entitled to invoke European law", said: " I reject the submission that the Supreme Court could or should simply disapply the whole of the legislative prohibition on prisoner voting, in relation to European Parliamentary and municipal elections, thereby making all convicted prisoners eligible to vote pending fresh legislation found to conform with European Union law."
It was clear that under the principles established in decided ECHR cases "a ban on eligibility will be justified in respect of a very significant number of convicted prisoners".
The "creation of any new scheme must be a matter for the United Kingdom Parliament".
Lady Hale said that in her view "it is now clear that the courts should not entertain a human rights claim on behalf of Mr Chester or, indeed, of Mr McGeoch, had he made one".
She said: "I do not consider that the human rights of either were violated by the Electoral Registration Officers' refusal to register them on the electoral roll."
Lady Hale said she had "some sympathy for the view of the Strasbourg court that our present law is arbitrary and indiscriminate", adding: "But I acknowledge how difficult it would be to devise any alternative scheme which would not also have some element of arbitrariness about it."
She went on: "However, I have no sympathy at all for either of these appellants. I cannot envisage any law which the United Kingdom Parliament might eventually pass on this subject which would grant either of them the right to vote."
It seemed clear from a case decided in Europe that "Strasbourg would now uphold a scheme which deprived murderers sentenced to life imprisonment of the right to vote, certainly while they remained in prison, and probably even after they were released on licence, as long as there was then a power of review".
Lady Hale said she could not see how "Mr Chester can sensibly have a claim to a remedy under the Human Rights Act" - in her view the ban on voting "is not incompatible with the rights of this particular litigant".
Lord Sumption, who said the court was dealing with "exceptionally delicate" issues, commented: "The protection of minorities is a necessary concern of any democratic constitution.
"But the present issue has nothing whatever to do with the protection of minorities. Prisoners belong to a minority only in the banal and legally irrelevant sense that most people do not do the things which warrant imprisonment by due process of law."
He pointed out: "The disenfranchisement of convicted prisoners is not and never has been a form of outlawry or 'civil death' (the phrase sometimes used to describe the current state of the law on prisoners' voting rights)."
Lord Sumption said: "The sentencing of offenders, and imprisonment more than any other sentence, is a reassertion of the rule of law and of the fundamental collective values of society which the convicted person has violated.
"This does not mean that the offender is disenfranchised because he is unpopular. Nor does it mean that he is regarded as having lost all civil rights or all claims against society, which is why the expression 'civil death' is inappropriate.
"The present rule simply reflects the fact that imprisonment is more than a mere deprivation of liberty. It is a temporary reclusion of the prisoner from society, which carries with it the loss of the right to participate in society's public, collective processes."
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, commenting on the Supreme Court ruling, said: " The 19th century punishment of civic death makes no sense in a 21st century prison system whose focus is on rehabilitation, resettlement and the prevention of re-offending.
"Is it 'common sense' for the Government to flout human rights law, face substantial financial penalties, ignore the advice of its Attorney General, prison governors, bishops to and inspectors of prisons and take up Parliamentary time and taxpayers' money in order to stop sentenced prisoners from acting responsibly by voting in democratic elections?"
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: "Labour's policy is and always has been that prisoners shouldn't be given the vote. We believe that committing a crime so serious that a judge has deprived you of your liberty means you should also lose the ability to vote in elections. That's why we are pleased with today's Supreme Court judgment."