BBC News: Election 2010 BBC News

Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 17:14 UK

Burglar takes legal action over prisoner vote ban

Person casting vote at ballot box
The Prison Reform Trust said voting should be a right for inmates

A convicted burglar is taking legal action against the government because he is unable to vote in the election.

Leon Punchard, 19, who is serving an 18-month sentence at Norwich prison, has filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

In 2005, the EHCR ruled it was illegal to deny voting rights to all prisoners, but UK law has not been changed.

The Ministry of Justice said the Human Rights Act did not limit Parliament's right to legislate as it sees fit.

Punchard's law firm Leigh Day & Co said he was seeking a "declaration and compensation from the UK government for its failure to take the necessary steps to allow him to vote" on 6 May.

A spokesman said a letter was sent to Justice Secretary Jack Straw earlier this year "requesting immediate steps" be taken to allow Punchard to vote.

"No such steps have been taken and, with the date for registering to vote having now come and gone, Mr Punchard is barred from voting."

Punchard was sentenced in December and is due to be released in July.

'Civic duty'

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said a two-stage consultation on prisoner voting rights had been carried out.

"The Human Rights Act does not limit Parliament's freedom to pass legislation. If primary legislation is incompatible with the ECHR, the domestic courts may make a declaration of incompatibility but the provisions remain in force.

"It is for Parliament to decide how to respond to that declaration, taking into account the UK's international obligations."

A policy paper published last year suggested prisoners serving sentences of up to four years could be allowed to vote.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Sentenced prisoners' voting should be a right, and a civic duty, as it is in almost all other Council of Europe countries."

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