European Court of Justice upholds ban on prisoner votes

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In a somewhat surprising result, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has voted to uphold a ban on prisoners voting in European elections.

This comes in days after British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would ignore a contrary ruling from the ECJ.

Although the case was not from a British national, the French plaintiff Thierry Delvigne stated that his rights were being violated as French law prevented him voting in European elections. As he took the case to the European Court of Justice, the ruling has an effect on any EU member state with prisoner voting restrictions.

The ECJ found that the ban was “is proportionate in so far as it takes into account the nature and gravity of the criminal offence committed and the duration of the penalty”, and it also found a limitation on the rights of EU citizens to vote in European elections.

French law, as with British law, does not make a distinction between the limitation of voting rights in national and European parliament elections.

Delvigne was convicted of murder, and the ECJ found a voting ban to be a proportional punishment. However, the ruling provides a narrow scope for the application of such a voting ban, and prisoners with lesser convictions could return to the court over a denial of voting rights.

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The European Court of Justice was founded in 1952, and is made up of one judge from each EU member state. The ECJ is tasked with interpreting European Union law, and the national courts of each member state are bound to uphold any European Court of Justice interpretations.

The court has been criticised for having overreaching powers – specifically, that it can interfere with national laws – although in this instance the European Court of Justice has left prisoner voting restrictions in EU member states intact.

The European Court of Human Rights, a separate court from the ECJ, ruled 10 years ago that the UK ban in prisoner voting. But this ruling has been ignored by the UK, but this has not been enforced because the UK has an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Photo credit: ECJ

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