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We need to talk: “democratic dialogue” and the ongoing saga of prisoner disenfranchisement

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Colin MurrayORCiD


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Challenges to prisoner disenfranchisement in the United Kingdom have persisted for more than a decade, progressing through the domestic courts to the European Court of Human Rights and back again. The issue has been subject to a prolonged two-stage consultation. And yet, in spite of the decision in Hirst v. UK (No. 2) that the current disenfranchisement regime breaches the right of prisoners to vote, the governments in office since this decision have to-date declined to introduce legislation to rectify the breach. This article considers the response of United Kingdom’s domestic courts to this situation, focussing upon the unwillingness of some courts to confront the government over the stalled reform process and the implications of this reluctance for the operation of the Human Rights Act 1998. The prisoner disenfranchisement cases give rise to important questions regarding whether the domestic courts have the discretion to develop the law to bring it within the margin of appreciation and whether multiple declarations of incompatibility should be issued if the government fails to respond to the first in an appropriate and timely manner.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Murray C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly

Year: 2011

Volume: 62

Issue: 1

Pages: 57-74

ISSN (print): 0029-3105

Publisher: Queen's University Belfast