Killer’s Legal Aid Bid To Stop Poll

A convicted killer is to use legal aid to launch an audacious bid to halt next month’s Assembly elections unless he is allowed to vote, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today. Murderer Stephen Boyle (38), will to go court to challenge current legislation that bans him from voting.

Boyle along with two other prisoners – armed robber Ciaran Toner and burglar Hugh Walsh – are seeking a High Court order directing Secretary of State Peter Hain to either ensure they can vote on March 7 or to postpone the elections until the current law is changed. The prisoners’ costs will be paid by the Legal Services Commission.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned that the inmates have applied for leave for a judicial review of the Representations Of The People Act – which states that prisoners are legally incapable of voting – on the grounds that the Government has breached their human rights.

Their legal team has warned that if the men are disqualified from voting in the elections it is a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and that they – and the province’s 900-plus inmates – would be entitled to compensation over loss of franchise.

Boyle, who is currently serving a life sentence, Toner (27) and Walsh (30), who are both due for release in the spring, applied to the Electoral Office in January to join the electoral register.

However, the province’s chief electoral officer Douglas Bain refused the application stating that he had no room under existing law to reach a different decision.

The prisoners’ solicitor, Garrett Greene from McCann and McCann, said that the policy is out of touch with the rest

of Europe and that depriving prisoners of the vote contradicts the aim of rehabilitating offenders.

Mr Greene told the Belfast Telegraph: “Prisoners should be given every opportunity to pay their debt to society, take responsibility for their lives and make plans for effective resettlement, this should include maintaining their right to vote.

“Giving prisoners the right to vote helps with their rehabilitation and keeps them in touch with society and their role as citizens within the community.”

If the High Court rules that the current law breaches human rights and agrees that the elections should be postponed until new legislation, it would be a serious setback to government plans to get the Assembly back up and running.

A similar case has placed doubt over the Scottish elections due to take place in May.

Last month three Court of Session judges ruled that denying prisoners the right to vote is incompatible with human rights.

Lords Abernethy, Nimmo Smith and Emslie ruled that section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 is incompatible with article 3 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights – which states that no one should be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The case was brought by William Smith, who was serving a five-year sentence for drug dealing at the time of the 2003 Scottish Parliament elections and was refused the right to have his name on the voters roll.

Other Scottish prisoners are taking legal action to prevent the May elections from taking place until new legislation is passed permitting them to vote. In 2005 the European Court of Human Rights ruled a blanket ban stopping prisoners from voting was a breach of human rights.