Two convicted murderers who argued that European Union law gave them the right to vote in UK elections have had their appeals dismissed by the supreme court at Westminster. Peter Chester, who is serving a life sentence in England, and George McGeoch, who is behind bars in Scotland, both tried to sidestep British legislation over prisoner voting rights, the European court of human of rights in Strasbourg having in the past ruled illegal Britain’s voting ban for all those serving any sentence. A parliamentary committee is considering whether to enforce the rulings or defy the European judges. The supreme court justices observed that since Strasbourg had already declared the blanket ban on prisoners voting incompatible with human rights, there was no point in repeating it. David Cameron welcomed the unanimous supreme court decision. The prime minister tweeted: “The supreme court judgment on prisoner voting is a great victory for common sense.”
Chester, in his 50s, is serving life for raping and strangling his seven-year-old niece, Donna Marie Gillbanks, in Blackpool in 1977. He is detained at Wakefield prison in West Yorkshire; the minimum term he was ordered to serve before becoming eligible to apply for parole has expired.
McGeoch, from Glasgow, is serving his life sentence at Dumfries prison for the murder in 1998 of Eric Innes in Inverness. He received a minimum term of 13 years but owing to subsequent convictions, including taking two prison nurses hostage in a siege in 2001, will not be considered for parole until 2015.
Handing down the decision, Lord Mance said that in relation to both appellants’ claims under EU law: “The provisions on voting contained in the applicable European treaties focus on the core concerns of ensuring equal treatment between EU citizens residing in member states other than that of their nationality, and so safeguarding freedom of movement within the EU. Eligibility to vote in member states is basically a matter for national legislatures.”