LONDON (AFP) – Prisoners in Britain will be allowed to vote after the government dropped a legal fight with the European Court of Human Rights, but serious offenders could still be excluded, a minister said Tuesday.
Britain has fought a six-year legal battle to prevent the law change after the European court ruled its ban on all prisoners' right to vote was discriminatory following a challenge by convicted axe-murderer John Hirst.
"The prime minister (David Cameron) is exasperated. I think every member in the House is exasperated about this," political reform minister Mark Harper told parliament when quizzed by angry lawmakers about the move.
"But we have no choice about complying with the law."
When asked if those convicted of crimes including murder and rape would be allowed to vote, Harper replied that the government had not yet decided and that it would "take into account" their concerns when changing the law.
The Daily Telegraph reported that the government was expected to tell the Court of Appeal on Wednesday it will end the 140-year-old ban after receiving legal advice that it could face a bill of hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation.
The Conservative party, the senior partner in Cameron's coalition government, was deeply unhappy with the decision but hopeful that Britain's judges could still play a major role in deciding who will vote, it said.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, welcomed the government's "historic" decision. The right of prisoners to vote in Britain was withdrawn by law in 1870.
"In a modern prison system you would expect prisoners to have rights and responsibilities and politicians to take an active interest in their constituency prisons," she said.
"People are sent to prison to lose their liberty, not their identity."