Britain has a blanket ban on prisoners voting.
Meanwhile the Government has welcomed a recommendation by the ECJ’s advocate general that the court rejects a case brought by the European Commission challenging the UK’s “right to reside” test which EU migrants must pass if they are to claim a few benefits.
Last year, the European Court of Human Rights – a separate court that is not affiliated with the EU – condemned Britain for banning prisoners from voting and said it was in breach of the right to free elections enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.
Struggling with challenges from the anti-EU UK Independence Party and a strong Eurosceptic wing in his own Conservatives, he has pledged to resist calls from the Strasbourg human rights court to amend legislation that bans prisoners from voting.
The ECJ ruled that “it is possible to maintain a ban” on voting in the European Parliamentary elections for people who have committed a “serious crime”. However, as this week’s case against France has been brought through the EU’s highest court, and not the ECHR, the issue could still be enforced against Britain under the EU’s charter of fundamental rights.
The ruling represents an unexpected boost for the Prime Minister, after he this week vowed to ignore the court should it have ruled against Britain’s blanket ban on prisoners’ right to vote. Prisoners’ rights should be something that lies exclusively with nation states.
It has always been open to the British government to end the blanket ban and replace it with a selective ban on certain categories of prisoners, such as the most serious criminals.
The ruling also said that the French system was legal because it allows those who have lost the vote to apply to regain it. Under the British system, voting rights are only won back on release from prison.
“This will cost the United Kingdom taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds as they will have to ultimately foot the bill for legal aid”.
Cameron is pushing for a pledge to ban European Union migrants from claiming in-work benefits for four years.
Mr Villalon argued that while the test could be seen as a case of “indirect discrimination” it was nevertheless justified by “the necessity of protecting the host member state’s public finances”.
However, Pedro Cruz Villalon, one of the advocates-general whose opinions are generally later followed by the judges, said Britain was entitled to ensure that those claiming benefits met conditions set for taking up residence in other European Union countries.
Today he said: “I haven’t changed my view at all”.
“If adopted by the court it bodes very well for David Cameron’s renegotiation programme”. Nothing is going to change.
“Uncontrolled migration has meant that in many sectors the minimum wage has become the maximum wage and big businesses have been relying on the tax payer to top up the salaries of their staff”.