• In the case of Hirst v United Kingdom no 2 74025 01 2005 ECHR 681 it was held that the United Kingdom’s ban on prisoners voting violated Art.3.

Facts of the Case

  • The applicant (H), a prisoner serving a discretionary life sentence for manslaughter, complained that the disenfranchisement of those serving the custodial sentence under the Representation of the People Act 1983 s.3 was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 Protocol 1 Art.3.
  • The United Kingdom argued that the right to vote enshrined in Protocol 1 Art 3 was to absolute and that states had a wide margin or appreciation in determining such matters.
  • Section 3 disenfranchised those serving custodial sentences because they had not shown themselves capable of responsible citizenship.
  • It was further contended that other states imposed blanket banks, some going further than that provided for under the Act.
  • H argued that the ability to vote was a right and not a privilege and that the ban removing that right did not pursue a legitimate aim.

Issues in Hirst v United Kingdom no 2 74025 01 2005 ECHR 681

  • Could the United Kingdom ban the right to vote of prisoners?

Held by European Court of Human Rights (Grand Chamber)

  • Appeal allowed
  • Banning the right to vote breached Art.3

Judge Wildhaber

  • Held that although Protocol 1 Art.3 was capable of wide application, it was well established that it enshrined the rights of an individual to take part in free elections by being entitled to vote.
  • “Whilst the margin of appreciation was wide, there was no evidence that the UK legislature had assessed the proportionality of the ban in light of modern penal policy and current human rights standards.”: [78]–[79]
  • “Therefore, while the Court reiterates that the margin of appreciation is wide, it is not all-embracing…Such a general, automatic and indiscriminate restriction on a vitally important Convention right fell outside the margin of appreciation.”: [82]