Information Note on the Court’s case-law
Judgment 6.12.2022 [Section III]
Article 3 of Protocol No. 1
Thorough assessment by domestic courts of the proportionality of statutory blanket voting ban as applied specifically to applicant, life prisoner convicted of several serious offences: no violation
Facts – The applicant is presently detained in prison serving a sentence of life imprisonment after being convicted of numerous criminal offences. In April 2019 he applied to the regional government requesting to be allowed to vote in the European Parliament Elections taking place the following month. His request was dismissed. He unsuccessfully challenged this decision in the domestic courts.
Law – Article 3 of Protocol No.1:
The applicant had been deprived of the right to vote at the European Parliament elections of 2019 as a result of a statutory blanket ban automatically applicable to all convicts in detention. The impugned ban constituted an interference with the applicant’s right to vote, as enshrined in Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention, and the interference pursued a legitimate aim.
Concerning the proportionality of the voting ban, the domestic law restricting convicted prisoners’ right to vote in the European Parliament elections was indiscriminate in its application in that it did not take into account the nature or gravity of the offence, the length of the prison sentence or the individual circumstances of convicts. The Government had not put forward any evidence that the Estonian legislature had ever sought to balance the competing interests or assess the proportionality of a blanket ban on the right of convicted prisoners to vote. There was no evidence whether the domestic courts, in the instant case, had taken into account – at the time of deciding on a sentence – the fact that a prison sentence would involve the disenfranchisement of the applicant.
The present case seemed, on the face of it, similar to those examined by the Court in earlier cases where a blanket ban on prisoners’ voting rights was in question. However, unlike cases where the Court had found a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention, in the present case – in the proceedings concerning the applicant’s right to vote – the domestic courts had assessed the proportionality of the application of the voting ban in the specific circumstances pertaining to the applicant and concluded that it had indeed been proportionate. In that connection, in cases arising from individual applications, the Court’s task was not to review the relevant legislation in the abstract. The Court therefore examined the manner in which the domestic legislation had been applied to the specific applicant in his particular circumstances, taking into account, inter alia, the findings of the domestic courts.
The domestic courts had reasoned that the voting ban had been proportionate in respect of the applicant, given the number, nature and gravity of the offences he had committed, his continued criminal behaviour while in prison, as well as the fact that, as a result, he had been sentenced to life imprisonment. In that connection, the Court observed that the seriousness of the offences committed was also one of the factors taken into account by the Grand Chamber in the case of Scoppola in reaching its conclusion that the Convention had not been violated. The Estonian Supreme Court – despite deeming the voting ban to be constitutional with respect to the applicant – had taken an overall critical stance against the blanket ban on prisoners’ voting rights, referring extensively to the Convention and the Court’s case-law, and had considered that the ban clearly violated the rights of many prisoners. Taking the above considerations into account, there was no basis for finding that the domestic courts, when assessing the proportionality of the voting ban with respect to the applicant, had overstepped the margin of appreciation afforded to them.
Conclusion: no violation (five votes to two).
(See also Hirst v. the United Kingdom (no. 2) [GC], 74025/01, 6 October 2005, Legal Summary; Scoppola v. Italy (no. 3) [GC], 126/05, 22 May 2012, Legal Summary)