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Up to 100 prisoners on short sentences are expected to be given the right to vote in a move that will end a long-running legal deadlock between the British government and Europe.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which monitors the implementation of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights, met yesterday and agreed plans to ease the blanket ban on prisoner voting.
The ban was found to breach inmates’ human rights by the court in 2005 but any move by ministers to give some prisoners the right to vote has provoked opposition and controversy.
The ruling led to criticism of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The court is not part of the European Union, and ministers are not planning to leave its jurisdiction, unlike that of the Court of Justice of the EU in Luxembourg.
While he was prime minister, David Cameron said that he felt “physically ill” at the thought of giving prisoners the vote.
However, last month David Lidington, the justice secretary, told MPs that the government intended to change prison rules to allow offenders on short sentences to vote while they are out of prison on a temporary release licence. The government estimates that the change will affect up to 100 individuals at any one time.
Most offenders, however, will still lose the right to vote and in future judges will have to make that clear in their sentencing by spelling it out on the warrant of committal to prison.
A decision adopted by the Committee of Ministers “noted with satisfaction” the package of administrative measures proposed and strongly encouraged authorities to implement them as soon as possible.