McHugh and others v United Kingdom (Application No 51987/08): European Court of Human Rights: 10 February 2015

European Parliament  – Effective remedy – Applicant serving prisoners being automatically prevented from voting in European and domestic elections pursuant to legislation – Applicants complaining of violation of right to free elections

The 1,015 applicants were all incarcerated following criminal convictions for a variety of offences. They were all automatically prevented from voting, pursuant to primary legislation in one or more elections. The applicants complained that they were prevented from voting in elections, relying on article 3 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights (article 3).

They sought non-pecuniary damage and costs and expenses.

The issue for determination was whether the UK had complied with Greens v United Kingdom (Application No 60041/08) ([2010] All ER (D) 280 (Nov)) (Greens), which had found that the UK’s statutory ban on prisoner voting had been, by virtue of its blanket character, incompatible with article 3 and had required some legislative amendment in order to render the electoral law compatible with the requirements of the Convention.

The application would be allowed.

The government had published a draft bill, which had undergone parliamentary scrutiny by a joint committee of both houses of parliament. The committee’s report had made recommendations as to suitable legislative amendments to be enacted and the appropriate timetable for enactment. However, given that the impugned legislation remained unamended, it had to be concluded that there had been a violation of article 3 in the applicants’ case (see [10], [11] of the judgment).

The finding of a violation constituted sufficient just satisfaction for any non-pecuniary damage sustained by the applicants, and an award in respect of costs and expenses would be declined (see [17] of the judgment).

Hirst v United Kingdom (No 2) (Application No 74025/01) [2005] All ER (D) 59 (Oct) considered; Greens v United Kingdom (Application No 60041/08) [2010] All ER (D) 280 (Nov) considered; Firth v United Kingdom (App. No. 47784/09) [2014] All ER (D) 57 (Aug) considered.