12:27, November 02 67 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-02 12:27:03
Up to 100 prisoners on short sentences to be given right to vote

Fewer than 100 prisoners will get the right to vote under changes to prison service guidance that it is hoped will end a 12-year dispute threatening Britain’s membership of the European court of human rights.

David Lidington, the justice secretary, confirmed to MPs on Thursday that the government intends to change prison rules to allow “up to 100 offenders” on short sentences to vote while they are out of prison on a temporary release licence.

The changes will not mean that any convicted prisoner behind bars will be given the vote and judges will in future have to make clear in their sentencing, by spelling it out on the warrant of committal to prison, that the offender will lose the right to vote.

The justice secretary hopes the change will be enough to convince a forthcoming ministers’ meeting of the Council of Europe, which oversees the human rights court, to draw a line under the dispute over the 2005 Hirst ruling, which outlawed Britain’s blanket ban on prisoner voting. The issue, more than any other, has soured relations between Strasbourg and London.

“We believe these changes address the points raised in the 2005 judgment in a way that respects the clear direction of successive parliaments and the strong views of the British public on prisoner voting,” Lidington told MPs on Thursday when he announced the changes.

The proposal provoked only limited outrage from the ranks of backbench Tory MPs, with Philip Davies telling Lidington that giving any prisoner the vote was as “popular as finding a rattlesnake in a lucky dip” with the British public.

However, the justice secretary was able to sidestep Davies’s call for a Commons vote on the issue, telling him that it did not require the approval of MPs as it was not a change in the law but an administrative amendment to prison service guidance.

Lidington also won strong praise for “finding an elegant solution” to the 12-year dispute from some senior Tory figures, including the former attorney general, who said the issue had bedevilled previous law officers and welcomed the move as signalling Britain’s willingness to adhere to its international legal obligations.

The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, said that whether Britain complied with its international human rights obligations was non-negotiable and asked for assurances that the UK has been told that the proposed changes were accepted by Strasbourg as complying with the 2005 judgment.