17 years ago, the Human Rights Act became law in the UK and we think that's worth celebrating!

To mark the occasion, over 17 days we are 'unwrapping' the Human Rights Act - with information & stories, we'll be sharing how the Act works and how it makes a difference. Many of the stories include examples taken from BIHR's work with people, community groups and public services.

Article 3, Protocol 1: Right to free elections

The Human Rights Act protects our right to free elections. These elections must be held at reasonable intervals and you have to be able to vote in secret. 

The government can decide what sort of system for elections we have and at what age we are able to vote. 

In real life: Right to free elections

Should prisoners be allowed to vote?

Currently, those serving prison sentences are not allowed to vote (this can be traced back to a law from Victorian times, from before human rights were set down in law). This applies to all prisoners, it doesn’t matter what offence they have been convicted of or the sentence they are serving; the ban on voting applies whether it’s a pensioner in prison for a few days because they have been convicted of failing to pay council tax or someone serving a life sentence for murder. People in prison challenged this blanket ban, arguing it wasn’t a proportionate restriction of the right to vote under the Human Rights Act. The case went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Court said was that restrictions need to be proportionate. Blanket bans in general tend to fall foul of human rights laws because there is no ability to consider the circumstances of a person or particular group. Also, as the ban was so old, the Court said the UK needed to re-look at the issue and decide what would be a proportionate restriction. The UK has yet to comply with this judgment, although Parliament has looked at the issue, progress has stalled. This has meant more people in prison have asked the European Court of Human Rights to look again at the issue.

(McHugh and others v UK