The European Union’s most senior court has ruled that it is lawful for countries such as Britain to impose a voting ban on prisoners convicted of serious crimes. The unexpected ruling by the European court of justice upholds a ban on a French convicted murderer who was serving a sentence of more than five years from taking part in the European elections. The European judges ruled that the ban on him voting did represent a breach of the EU charter of fundamental rights but that it was proportionate “in so far as it takes into account the nature and gravity of the criminal offence committed and the duration of the penalty”. The ruling, which has clear implications for Britain’s blanket ban on prisoner voting, went on: “The court concludes that it is possible to maintain a ban which, by operation of law, precludes persons convicted of a serious crime from voting in elections to the European parliament.”
The French prisoner who brought the challenge, Thierry Delvigne, had been automatically banned from voting at the time of his conviction in 1988 under a law in force at the time which imposed a blanket ban on those sentenced to more than five years’ imprisonment.
The EU judges said that the ban to which “Delvigne was subject is proportionate”.
The law also allowed him to individually appeal against the decision to strip him of his voting rights. French law has since been changed to require individual prisoners to be banned by a court order which cannot be in force for longer than 10 years.