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UK parliament rejects prisoner voting rights despite ECHR ruling

The UK House of Commons voted Thursday to reject a controversial European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official websites] ruling [JURIST report] and continue preventing prisoners from voting in British elections. Voting to extend the ban [UKPA report] by an overwhelming 212-vote majority, MPs have now forced British Prime Minister David Cameron [official website], who supports the ban, to decide whether to ignore [WSJ report] the ECHR's ruling or risk lawsuits [Telegraph report] by prisoners over their lost rights. Some lawmakers have suggested meeting the minimum standards required by international law by restricting the right to vote to inmates serving sentences of less than four years, while others have demanded that the UK withdraw from ECHR membership entirely. The UK currently incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF] into its law, but the ECHR has the final interpretation.

Earlier this week, UK think tank Policy Exchange [think tank website] called [text, PDF] for the UK to withdraw from the ECHR [JURIST report] in favor of a domestic high court. The report, written by former government adviser Dr. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, explains that the ECHR has gradually grown in power. It calls for the UK to try to negotiate reforms with the court to limit its jurisdiction, and, if unsuccessful, states "the UK should consider withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and establishing the Supreme Court in London as the final appellate court for human rights law." Some legal experts in the UK say that severing ties with the European court would harm its commitment [BBC report] to protecting human rights and to the Council of Europe and the EU [official websites]. The controversy over UK prisoner voting rights stems from a 2005 case filed by John Hirst, who had been sentenced to life in prison for killing his landlord. Hirst claimed he should be able to vote while in prison and the ECHR agreed, ruling [judgment; press release] that the Representation of the People Act of 1983 [text] breached Hirst's human rights.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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