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U-turn on prisoners’ voting rights

20 January 2011

UK Government plans to give voting rights to prisoners serving sentences of four years or less are to be watered down, according to reports. The original proposals, put forward following a 2004 ruling in the European Court of Human Rights that a blanket exclusion from voting rights was unacceptable, faced strong opposition on the Government as well as Labour benches, including from David Cameron himself, who recently said the notion made him feel “ill”.

Instead, ministers hope to limit the right to prisoners serving sentences of under one year, though there remains a dual risk that neither Parliament nor the court in Strasbourg will accept such a compromise.

The crisis was triggered by John Hirst, serving a sentence for manslaughter, who successfully argued that the disenfranchisement of prisoners was a violation of his human rights. Speaking to the BBC, Hirst said attempts to step back from the four-year limit did not have “a cat’s chance in hell” of success.

"If I'd have gone to court and said I'm not accepting a judge's life sentence, where would that put us?" he commented. "You have to accept that the law applies to everybody and it applies to the Government, and David Cameron is not above the law and he'll find out that very shortly.”

Ministers have warned that failure to act would leave the Government open to compensation claims from prisoners, totalling millions of pounds.

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