The European court of human rights (ECHR) has ruled that prisoners who have not been allowed to vote should not be paid compensation.
However, in a ruling that will stoke anger within the Conservative party, the court on Tuesday upheld its earlier ruling that the prisoners' human rights were breached when they were not allowed to vote. The case concerns 10 men serving sentences in Scottish prisons – some of whom are convicted sex offenders – who claimed their human rights were breached when they were not allowed to vote in the European elections in 2009.
Had the court ruled that the men were entitled to compensation, the government would have had to make payouts in hundreds of similar cases. In its decision on Tuesday, the court unanimously said that its finding that the prisoners' rights had been violated was sufficient.
"The finding of a violation constitutes in itself sufficient just satisfaction for any non-pecuniary damage sustained by the applicant," it said.
In such circumstances, the court ruled that "the legal costs claimed by the present applicants cannot be regarded as reasonably and necessarily incurred. The court therefore declines to make any award in respect of legal costs."
In 2004 the ECHR said a blanket ban on prisoners voting was unlawful. But successive UK governments have refused to comply with the ruling. Last December, David Cameron reiterated his strong opposition to the ECHR decision, saying that prisoners "damn well shouldn't" be given the right to vote as he called for the powers of the court to be restricted.
The prime minister and many in the Conservative party believe that the final decision must lie with the UK parliament and not Europe.
The ECHR in Strasbourg ruled in 2004 that a UK blanket ban on prisoners voting was unlawful after it received a claim from the convicted killer John Hirst. Seven years later, MPs voted to keep the ban on prisoner voting – excluding those on remand – despite the ECHR's repeated calls for the UK to comply with its original ruling.
Convicted prisoners in the UK are banned from voting on the basis that they have forfeited that right by breaking the law and going to jail.
Last December a cross-party committee of MPs concluded that prisoners serving a jail term of a year or less could be entitled to vote – but this was never made law. Cameron has said that the idea of giving prisoners the right to vote makes him feel "physically sick". Last October the convicted murderers Peter Chester and George McGeoch lost a bid at the supreme court to win prisoners the right to vote in light of the ECHR's original 2004 ruling.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The government has always been clear that it believes prisoner voting is an issue that should ultimately be decided in the UK. The government is reflecting on the report from the joint committee on prisoner voting rights and is actively considering its recommendations. This is not a straightforward issue and the government needs to think carefully about the recommendations, which included new options for implementation."
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