Scottish prisoners refused right to vote in referendum by supreme court

Prison Bars

A bid by two Scottish prisoners to overturn a ban on inmates voting in the independence referendum has been dismissed by the UK supreme court.

Leslie Moohan, 31, and Andrew Gillon, 46, are serving life sentences for murder and had argued that the ban on taking part in September's poll infringed their human rights under European and common law.

But their fast-tracked case was rejected on Thursday when seven supreme court judges chaired by Lord Neuberger issued an unusually quick summary decision less than an hour after hearing final oral submissions on the case.

If they had won, the Scottish government would have been forced to introduce emergency amendments to the Scottish referendum act allowing inmates to apply for a postal ballot or nominate a proxy voter. The deadline for postal applications is 3 September.

Gillon was jailed in 1998 for killing his friend, Gary Johnstone, 25, who was repeatedly hit on the head with a spade in Bathgate, West Lothian. Moohan is serving at least 15 years for murdering David Redpath, from Peterhead, at a hostel in Edinburgh in 2008.

Their challenge hinged on repeated rulings by the European court of human rights that the UK's blanket ban on inmates voting in elections is a breach of their rights. The UK is one of only a few countries in the world with such a ban.

Aidan O'Neill QC, for the prisoners, argued that under UK referendum law the Scottish government had the freedom to decide who could or could not vote on 18 September. Alex Salmond, the first minister, had vigorously resisted allowing prisoners to take part but allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote for the first time.

At two earlier hearings, courts in Edinburgh had upheld the Scottish government's argument that European court rulings did not include referendums, and were limited to elections. They also said there was no clear common law right to vote in the UK.

The supreme court is to publish a fuller ruling later.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 24th July 2014 17.02 Europe/London

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