The UK should withdraw from the Council of Europe if it chooses to ignore pan-Europe judgments giving prisoners the right to vote, the continent’s most senior human rights official has warned. Niels Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, said British MPs could not “cherry-pick” decisions issued by the European court of human rights. His comments, published in evidence to the joint Commons and Lords parliamentary committee considering the draft voting eligibility (prisoners) bill, are likely to raise the political stakes in an already inflamed confrontation that has set British ministers at odds with the Strasbourg-based European court of human rights. The court first ruled in 2005 that a blanket ban preventing all prisoners from voting in elections was incompatible with human rights.
Having failed to persuade the ECHR judges to reverse their decision, the government published a draft bill last year setting out three political options: a ban for prisoners sentenced to four years or more, a ban for prisoners sentenced to more than six months, and a restatement of the existing ban – in effect defying Strasbourg.
Muižnieks’ letter, addressed to Nick Gibb MP, chair of the parliamentary committee looking at the draft prisoners voting bill, says: “If the UK, a founding member of the Council of Europe and one which has lost relatively few cases at the Court, decides to “cherry-pick” and selectively implement judgments, other states will invariably follow suit and the system will unravel very quickly.