Prisioners' Voting Rights - 6 Months Deadline

The decision of the ECtHR is now final – The UK Government has 6 months to address the blanket ban on prisoners' votes

The latest decision from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the issue of prisoners' voting rights is now final. The judgment of the Court in Greens and M.T. v the United Kingdom, issued in November 2010, was finalised on Monday 11 April 2011, despite referral requests having been submitted.

The procedures of the ECtHR provide that parties can, within three months from the delivery of a judgement, request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber for review, if it raises a serious question of interpretation or application, or a serious issue of general importance. Such requests are examined by a Grand Chamber panel of five judges and if accepted, the Grand Chamber would render its own decision on the case, which would then be final. All final judgments of the Court are binding on the respondent States concerned.

In the case of Greens and M.T. v the United Kingdom, Mr Greens, one of the two applicants, (both of whom were prisoners at Peterhead Prison at the time of application) and the UK Government, submitted referral requests. However, those requests were rejected, when the five-judge panel of the Grand Chamber met on 11 April 2011 and finalised the judgement issued in November 2010. In finalising the decision, the Court started the clock ticking on the six month timescale within which the UK Government is required to bring forward legislative changes intended to amend the law in this area so that it is compliant with the ECtHR. As such, the UK Government now have until October 2011 to address the issues that successive governments have been avoiding since the decision of the ECtHR in Hirst v United Kingdom in 2005.

It was in light of the lengthy delay in such steps being taken that the six months timescale was imposed by the Court in its decision issued in November 2010. Whilst further referring to that delay, and to the consequences of it, in terms of follow-up applications, the Court noted that it "is anxious to encourage the speediest and most effective resolution of the situation in a manner which complies with the Convention's guarantees". As such, the Court considered whether it was now necessary for it to take a more proactive role in ensuring that the judgment is executed, by providing guidance to the Government as to what is required in terms of legislative changes. However, in recalling the Grand...

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