Student blog post: With Reference to the Case-Law of the European Convention on Human Rights Do Prisoners Have the Right to Vote and, if yes, to which Extent?

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This post (edited for publication) is contributed to our blog as part of a series of work produced by students for assessment within the module ‘Public International Law’. Following from last year’s blogging success, we decided to publish our students’ excellent work in this area again in this way. The module is an option in the second year of Bristol Law School’s LLB programme. It continues to be led by Associate Professor Dr Noelle Quenivet. Learning and teaching on the module was developed by Noelle to include the use of online portfolios within a partly student led curriculum. The posts in this series show the outstanding research and analytical abilities of students on our programmes. Views expressed in this blog post are those of the author only who consents to the publication

Guest author: Magdalena Vakulova

Introduction

The right to vote has always been a hot topic. In fact, fights to achieve universal suffrage have been here for centuries, and still continue today. Even though the right to vote is one of the basic principles of democratic society and the strongest ‘say’ the citizen can have as well as one of the fundamental human rights encapsulated in Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) there are still many ambiguities over potential restrictions to this right.

The current law in the United Kingdom denies the right to vote to prisoners while incarcerated (People Act 1983, part 1 section 3). However, according to Hirst, a case decided by the European Court of Human Rights, the denial of right to vote for prisoners falls outside the given margin of appreciation as the automatic ‘blanket ban‘ contradicts the very essence of this right.

Referring to the relevant case law I will examine the right to vote for prisoners in the UK. I decided to focus on the UK because the judgment (Hirst v UK) was not only the first one in a long series of cases relating to universal suffrage for prisoners but was also applied in different jurisdictions across Europe. I will be arguing that even though the States were given a wide margin of appreciation to exclude prisoners from the voting process, this can only be done if it does not violate the whole essence of the right. In my opinion reasonable restrictions of this right should be allowed and approved as compatible with Article 3, 10 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

Mr Hirst’s Argument

In this video Mr Hirst, convicted of murder, argues in favour of prisoners’ right to vote as a basic human right. 

The Right to Vote as the Basis of Democract

First, we must understand that the right to vote is not only a basic aspect of citizenship but also viewed as the ‘core principle’ (L Beckman ‘The Right to Democracy and the Human Right to Vote: The Instrumental Argument Rejected’ (2014) 13 Journal of Human Rights 381) of the democratic system (Watch this video which explains why a voting right for everyone is so important in a democratic society.) In order to ensure effective democracy within the State the basic human rights of every citizen (Scoppola v Italy, para 51) must be preserved and this without discrimination or unreasonable restrictions incompatible with the terms of the ECHR (Hirst v UK (paras 27 and 41)). Moreover, everyone’s right to participate in voting is implied in Article 21 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and more explicitly outlined in Article 25 of the ICCPR where the right to vote is established as a binding norm of international law. Further Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR states that the right to vote is not only the key aspect of effective political democracy but also an important element of the Convention system (Mathieu-Mohin and Clerfayt v Belgium, para 47). Therefore the exclusion of prisoners from the right to vote must be reconcilable with the purposes of Article 3 of Protocol 1 (Hirst v UK (No. 2), para 62). However, in my opinion, the UK has departed from this fundamental norm as it has prevented prisoners from exercising this basic right and so has fully blocked their access to the democratic system.

The Margin of Appreciation and UK Arguments 

In the case of Hirst v UK it was held that a blanket ban on prisoners’ right to vote under s. 3(1) of the 1983 Act is not compatible with Article 3 of Protocol 1. Even though the States are endowed with a wide margin of appreciation and the rights under Article 3 are not absolute, the automatic ban falls outside these margins (Hirst No 2, para 82) as it is not proportionate (Scoppola, paras 93-102; Hirst No 2, paras 76-85) (see also Sauvé v Canada (Supreme Court of Canada), paras 37 and 54-62).

The first  argument that the UK submitted to the European Court of Human Rights was that as prisoners had breached a social contract, they lacked moral virtue and therefore did not deserve this right. The second ground of the government’s reasoning was that this restriction was a punishment which helped enhancing civic responsibility (Hirst No 2, para 50).

The Response of the ECtHR to the UK Arguments 

The ECHR rejected the UK arguments. Firstly, it argued that the lack of moral virtue is contradictory to the fact that the State requires prisoners to fulfill other civic duties. Moreover the ECHR emphasized that the right to vote is a right and not a privilege (see also Sauvé, paras 14, 19-24 and 37; Hirst No 2, paras 59 and 75) which you deserve through a good moral virtue.

Secondly, it was held that incarceration per se is not a reasonable justification for violating fundamental rights. Whilst the ECHR to some extent approved the idea of a voting ban being understood as a punishment (Hirst No 2, paras 74-75, see also Dikson v United Kingdom) it however stressed that any such restriction  needed to have a clear link between the punishment and the restriction (see Hirst No 2, Joint Dissenting Opinion of Judges Wildhaber, Costa, Lorenzen, Kovler and Jebens, para 8 and Dissenting Opinion of Judge Costa, para 3). Yet, there was no such evidence that the UK had even thought about the link to the offense (see discussion by Weston) or any other justification of the punishment. In contrast the UK applied the automatic ban to every prisoner. The UK reasoning was not objective at any point and therefore I agree that the ban contradicts the very essence of the universal suffrage (see Mathieu-Mohin, para 52).

Conclusion 

In my opinion the reasoning of the European Court of Human Rights in Hirst was correct as the UK’s justification for the ban was discriminatory and not legally tenable. In this light I think that the UK should carry out debates and amend the current legislation so that the restriction of the right to vote is possible to some extent at least. Furthermore I believe that enfranchisement will help prisoners in their rehabilitation.

Bristol Law School students attend annual Eid on the Wharf party

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On 28th September a diverse group of law students from Level 1 to LLM responded to the opportunity to attend an annual Eid on the Wharf party hosted by Clifford Chance and the Association of Muslim Lawyers (AML).

Koser Shaheen, Chair of AML, offered free tickets to UWE law students to attend the networking event at Clifford Chance’s Canary Wharf offices.  Facilitated by Dr. Zainab Kahn, interested students worked together to prepare for the trip.

First year LLB students Kashif Imambaccass and Lizzie Greco-Turner reflected on their experiences:

“Having only been studying at UWE for two weeks, this was our first law networking event. We were awestruck walking into the imposing thirty floor skyscraper at Canary Wharf that houses Clifford Chance. Once we arrived at the venue, we were greeted by fellow UWE students, ranging from second year LLB to LLM students.

The opportunity to network with 250+ city professionals, who were very impressive leaders in their field, gave us an invaluable insight into what a legal career in law entails.

The highlight of our evening was interacting with Halim Uddin, an associate at Clifford Chance. Uddin was down-to-earth and friendly, willing to answer all the questions we had on the work required to become an elite lawyer.

In addition to the networking, the Eid party exposed us to a number of Islamic speakers and entertainers.  We felt humbled listening to an address by Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, who recently received the Queens Award for Voluntary Services.  Also on top of the list of entertainment was the engaging and often funny speech by Lauren Booth, referred to as one of the most ‘fascinating Muslim Personalities of our time’.

As Law is often portrayed as an exclusive profession, it was refreshing to network with a diverse team of lawyers from a wide range of backgrounds. Thanks to our lecturer Kathy Brown, who believed in us; we have obtained a drive to excel, to work harder and pave the way to becoming the very best of who we are. Now, the idea of working for one of the ‘Magic Circle’ firms, seem slightly less daunting.”

In accordance with the inclusive nature of the activity, travel was funded for the students by the Bristol Law School.

 

UWE Bristol’s First Interdisciplinary Symposium on Organised Crime

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On Wednesday 10th October, the Centre for Applied Legal Research will be hosting their first interdisciplinary symposium on organised crime.

The Symposium is endorsed by the Criminal Justice Unit, the International Law and Human Rights Unit, and the Regional History Centre. The Symposium is in association with SOLON Interdisciplinary Studies in Law, Crime and History.

The symposium will be chaired by Senior Lecturer in Organised and Financial Crime in Offshore Financial Centres, Dr Mary Alice Young and Lecturer in History Dr Michael Woodiwiss.

Speakers include: 

• Dr Michael Woodiwiss (History, UWE).

• Dr Anna Markovska (Criminology, Anglia Ruskin).

• Professor Tim Hall (Human Geography and Criminology, Winchester).

• Mr Mark Berry, PhD Researcher, Cardiff University, Trustee for the International Association for the Study of Organised Crime.

• Mr Jonathan Benton, Freelance – Formerly Head of Proceeds of International Corruption Unit and Senior Investigating Officer leading the UK Anti-Corruption Task Force and Proceeds of Corruption Unit.

• Mr Mike Lewis, Freelance – Mike’s work documents and understands the activities of states, individuals, armed groups and companies in armed conflicts and vulnerable economies, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa but also in Northern Europe, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia. More information about Mike Lewis’s research).

The symposium will take place in 4X113 in the Bristol Business School from 9am – 5pm.

The full event agenda can be viewed here. You can register for the event here.

If you have any further questions please email: calr@uwe.ac.uk

Student event: Start of the Year Careers Forum

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After a summer filled with sunshine, we’re holding a welcome back careers event next week as part of induction week. The Start of the Year Careers Forum will shine a light on opportunities for graduate jobs, placements and internships with leading legal and non-legal employers from the South West and across the UK.

The forum will take place on Wednesday 19th September from 10am.

The forum will consist of a mixture of employer stands and breakout sessions with short talks. Expect:

  • Employer stands with information and freebies.
  • A chance to meet and hear from legal and non-legal employers from the South West and across the UK. All of the attending employers recruit law graduates.
  • Insights into working in different job roles and sectors.
  • Tips to help you stand out in application processes for placements and graduate jobs.
  • A window into the future of how technology and other trends are changing jobs and industries.

Whether you want to become a solicitor, a barrister, or do something else entirely, this event is designed to appeal to all law students with a wide variety of interests and ambitions. It will give you the chance to talk to non-legal employers and find out why they value and recruit law students. There will be law firms present, as well as a wide range of other employers who are interested in your skills as a law graduate.

These employers have an interest in speaking specifically to you. Employers signed up include:

WHEN & WHERE: Wednesday 19th September, 10am-2pm, Floor 3 in the Business School. This will show in your timetables.

This event is aimed at second and third years in the Faculty of Business and Law, and we will be issuing a full programme shortly. Keep up to date on Twitter @UWELaw.

Don’t miss out!

Honorary degree awarded to Alderman Timothy Hailes, JP

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UWE Bristol awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws to Alderman and Sheriff of the City of London, Timothy Hailes, JP, in recognition of his contribution to the legal profession and to public service.

The honorary degree was conferred at the Awards Ceremony of the Faculty of Business and Law at Bristol Cathedral on Monday 16 July at 10.30.

Tim is the current Aldermanic Sheriff of The City of London – holding an office that dates back to Anglo Saxon times and a pre-requisite to becoming Lord Mayor of the City of London; being established around 700AD. He became Sheriff at the age of 49. He is also a Managing Director and Associate General Counsel in the Legal Department of JPMorgan Chase & Co, which he joined as an Associate in 1999. Prior to joining JPMorgan he trained and qualified as a Solicitor, practising in law firms from 1993-1999 with a particular specialism in derivatives, securities and international capital markets.

Tim was educated at Bristol Grammar School, read a BA (Hons) degree in Medieval and Early Modern History at Kings College London where he was also President of the Students Union (1988-89), and then returned to Bristol to undertake his professional qualifications in law at UWE from 1991-93. He still considers himself a proud Bristol boy!

He was elected Alderman for the Ward of Bassishaw in the City of London in May 2013 having been appointed and sworn to the magistracy in the prior January. In 2017 he was appointed a Member of the Order of St John by HM The Queen.

In May 2014 he was named In House UK Finance Lawyer of the Year, was recognised as European Financial Services Regulatory Lawyer of the Year in May 2017 and was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for Services to the UK In House Legal Profession in December 2017. He is widely acknowledged as one of the leading banking, financial services and regulatory lawyers in the country and has represented the industry to governments, regulators and supranational organisations all over the world.

Congratulations Tim!

Bar Professional Training Course Qualifying Session Dinner

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On Thursday 7th June, the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) hosted the annual qualifying session Dinner to mark the end of the BPTC calendar.

Guests included The Hon Mr Justice Warby ( a High Court Judge), Vice Treasurer Gray’s Inn, William Clegg QC, Donna Whitehead and a number of other members of the Judiciary, Inns, Local Bar and Faculty staff.

The atmosphere was formal and yet jolly with the students pleased and relieved to have completed their intensive academic program.

Speeches were from Anna Vigars QC (Head of Guildhall Chambers, Bristol) who offered the students inspiring words of wisdom and from David Forster, BPTC student who offered his amusing and inclusive reflections on the BPTC year. Both speakers were very well received by the audience.

Students and some guests continued their celebrations at the after dinner party hosted by the students at the Square Bar.

Bristol Law School students bring characters of award winning novel to life in mock murder trial

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On Thursday 24 May and Friday 25 May, students on our Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) acted as counsel for the prosecution and defence in a two-day mock murder trial on Frenchay campus.

The mock trial was based on the plot of the award winning novel Infinite Sky by CJ Flood.

Infinite Sky, a story about a teenage girl trying to come to terms with the abandonment of her mother when a family of gypsies set up an illegal camp in the paddock by her house, contains a violent death. It is this violent death that was explored in the mock trial.

His Honour Judge Johnson, a Circuit Judge who sits at Isleworth Crown Court, presided over the trial and the witnesses were played by a combination of professional actors, together with amateur actors from UWE Bristol’s Drama School, Law School and a local high school.

CJ Flood, the author, also attended the trial to find out the verdict for for the characters she had created. Read her account of the trial on her blog.

The prosecution

Members of the BPTC teaching team acted as ushers, jury bailiffs and court clerks, whilst the jury was made up of students.

The mock trial was open to members of the public as well as staff and students.

After all the witnesses had been cross examined and re-examined, the two day trial culminated in closing speeches from both sides before the jury went out to make their decision. Returning after an hour or so, they found the defendant not guilty of murder.

The trial was an incredible learning experience for our students and gave them the opportunity experience first hand what a real trial would be like.

Thank you to everyone involved who helped bring Infinite Sky to life for the purpose of the trial and a massive thank you to CJ Flood for agreeing to let us host the trial.

 

Dr Zainab Khan wins at the Bristol Diversity Awards 2018

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Dr Zainab Khan picked up the award for Positive Role Model (Race / Ethnicity) at the 2nd Bristol Diversity Awards event on Saturday 18th May at the Mercure Holland Hotel & Spa.

Zainab was nominated for her work on the UWE Bristol Equity Programme.

Equity is a positive-action talent development programme aiming to improve BAME graduate outcomes  through identity coaching, enterprise education and large networking events.

It marks a major departure from traditional diversity practice in Higher Education, and has received  positive reception from external observers and city commentators for its innovation. You can find out more about the Equity Programme here

Prior to the event Zainab was interviewed for ITV’s local news to discuss the upcoming awards

Attending the awards were Equity student committee members, Donna Whitehead (Executive Dean & Pro Vice Chancellor), Dr Harriet Shortt (Associate Professor Bristol Business School), Mena Fombo (Motivational Speaker and Equity Programme Coach) and Alex Mormoris, former colleague and key member of the Equity Programme staff.

Congratulations to Zainab and the Equity team on this impressive achievement.

Bristol Law School host mock law trial based on award winning novel

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On the 24th and 25th May the Bristol Law School will be hosting a unique mock trial based on award winning novel by C.J. Flood.

Infinite Sky, a story about a teenage girl trying to come to terms with the abandonment of her mother when a family of gypsies set up an illegal camp in the paddock by her house, contains a violent death. It is this violent death that will be explored in the mock trial.

The trial will be conducted by HHJ Johnson, a Circuit Judge from Isleworth Crown Court. The defendant will be prosecuted and defended by teams of students on the Bar Professional Training Course. The witnesses will be played largely by a mixture of professional actors and undergraduates from the Drama School and the Law School.

Author of the book C.J. Flood, will be attending the trial to see hear the verdict cast for the character she created.

The mock trial is open for all to attend. Please see below for the details:

Venue: 2X112, Bristol Business School, Frenchay Campus, UWE Bristol

Timings: 10am – 5pm and 9:30am – 2:30pm

Guest Lecture: Dr Jane Rooney: Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights in Armed Conflict

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By Noelle Quenivet

On 14 March 2018 the Centre for Applied Legal Research welcomed Dr Jane Rooney, Lecturer at the University of Bristol, to present a paper on ‘Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights in Armed Conflict’. Dr Rooney began by explaining that she was challenging the commonly held view that human rights law and the European Convention on Human Rights more particularly subject States to a higher threshold than international humanitarian law.

To support her key argument Dr Rooney took the example of internal disturbances that are not covered by international humanitarian law as they do not reach the required levels of violence and organisation of non-State actors. In such instances Article 2 ECHR becomes of paramount importance. Under this provision force may not be used unless absolutely necessary and so the European Court of Human Rights will examine whether force has been used in a proportionate manner as well as how the operation was planned and controlled. As she explained, Article 2 ECHR contains two types of positive obligations (substantive and procedural) and negative obligations. With regard to negative obligations, Dr Rooney observed that they are never looked at in an extra-territorial context. She added that even in an internal context they are only examined in cases relating to terrorism, high levels of violence and internal disturbances but not armed conflicts. As a result a human rights paradigm is applied because the situation at hands is not one that falls within the remit of international humanitarian law. A law-enforcement perspective is thereby espoused.

Dr Rooney focused her attention on three cases against Russia: Isayeva (2005), Finogenov et al (2011) and Tagayeva et al (2017) as they provided good examples of high levels of violence yet not necessarily falling within the scope of international humanitarian law. The first case relates to the bombardment of civilians leaving the siege of Grozny, the second examines the hostage crisis in a Moscow theatre and the third looks at the hostage take-over of school in Beslan.

In McCann et al the European Court of Human Rights scrutinised the planning of the operation as and applied an honest belief test to establish whether the principle of proportionality had been complied with. Yet, in Armani da Silva (2016) the Court applied a subjective test of proportionality. Dr Rooney argued that it seemed that increasingly the European Court of Human Rights was adopting a rather deferential attitude towards the State. For example in Finogenov it used the margin of appreciation doctrine to allow the State a certain degree of discretion. Usually, the Court sets out the test and applies it. Another exampled used by Dr Rooney was the use of poisonous gas. In Finogenov the Court deemed it proportionate whereas under international humanitarian law such weapons (ie riot control agents) are banned. Dr Rooney pinpointed that whilst political considerations were embodied in international humanitarian law this was not the case of human rights law. Was it however possible that the Court was building political considerations into its jurisprudence?

In an armed conflict paradigm, force will be used and individuals will be killed but the principles of distinction, discrimination and proportionality will set the limits to the use of force. In other words the use of force is intimately related to the designation of people in an armed conflict.  The reason for this is that international humanitarian aims to protect those who are not taking part in hostilities. The principle of proportionality under this legal regime allows for incidental loss of civilian life but only on the basis that it is proportionate to the military advantage. Thus international humanitarian law is more permissive in relation to the lethal use of force.
In Tagayeva the Court appeared to use international humanitarian law to decide on the legality of the attack carried out by the Russian forces with a view to freeing the hostages in the school. After all it did refer to Article 51(4) of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions and Articles 1 and 2 of the Protocol III to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (Incendiary Weapons) in describing the relevant legal framework. However, it turns out that although the Court mentioned international humanitarian law it did not use it. In fact the Court examined whether the basic principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials had been complied with. Here the Court examined whether a legal framework was in place on the national level, concluding that it had failed to set the key principles of the use of force as required by the Convention. In fact the Court seemed to focus its attention on the negative obligation of Article 2 ECHR, investigating the planning and control as well as the investigation after the attack. It observed that Russia had failed to take precautionary measures although it was aware that the individuals had travelled to North Ossetia, similar attacks had been carried out and no warning was issued to the school administration. As for the investigation since no inventory of the weapons used was made, the evidence was disposed of summarily, etc it failed to comply with the principles of Article 2 ECHR. Interestingly, as the Court concentrates on issues prior and after the attack it seems that it is using these tools to deter States from using force, stressing the importance of working on prevention and investigation and the need for States to put in place appropriate measures to avoid the recurrence of such unlawful uses of force.

The European Court of Human Rights defers to the state on proportionality of use of force on the grounds that the judiciary is not equipped with the expertise or democratic legitimacy for making such a decision that is vital to national security. An evaluation of the jurisprudence indicates that adopting a human rights/law enforcement paradigm can result in a more permissive regime of use of force than under the armed conflict paradigm.  International humanitarian law should serve as a point of reference for the European Court of Human Rights in ‘internal’ disturbances, especially where the alternative is a more permissive regime of use of force on the part of the state; where politics dictates the characterisation of the violence as a domestic disturbance rather than an armed conflict; as well as its characterisation as internal or transboundary. Dr Rooney concluded by stating that there needs to be further assessment of the cross-section between counter-terrorism and armed conflict regimes in order to clarify our expectations of state behaviour in these difficult circumstances.