Page last updated at 14:34 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 15:34 UK

Norwich inmate's legal challenge to vote

An inmate serving an 18-month sentence at HMP Norwich is planning to sue the government for blocking him from voting in the 2010 general election, a law firm has revealed.

Leon Punchard, 19, has filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), said solicitors Leigh Day and Co.

The law firm said Punchard was seeking a "declaration and compensation from the UK government for its failure to take the necessary steps to allow him to vote".

Five years ago the European Court of Human Rights ruled it was illegal for ministers to deny voting rights to all prisoners.

Since then the Government has held two public consultations on the issue but has not changed the law.

'Fundamental right'

A spokesman for the law firm 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," the spokesman said.

"With no other remedies available to him under the domestic legal system, Mr Punchard has no alternative but return to the ECtHR seeking a declaration and compensation from the UK Government for their breach of one of his most fundamental convention rights."

Punchard, who was convicted in December 2009, is due to be released in July - two months after the election.

The law firm's spokesman said Punchard was jailed for an offence committed in Norfolk in October last year.

But he would not confirm the nature of the crime.

A spokesman for Norwich Crown Court said Punchard, of Motum Road, Norwich, was handed an 18-month term in a young offenders' institution and was then sent to HMP Norwich - which also holds young offenders - on 1 December last year.

He said Punchard was convicted of burglary and had a further 68 offences, including theft, taken into account by the judge sentencing at the court.

A Norfolk Police spokeswoman said Punchard was arrested over a dwelling burglary in Norwich which happened on 3 October last year.

She said a television was stolen from the property.

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