Voting rights for British expats ECHR decision on Tuesday

05/05/2013 - 15:09

You may know Harry Shindler, age 93, of Ascoli Piceno. He is a British citizen and has been living in Italy for about 30 years. He was formerly the President of the Association of British Expats in Italy. He is a war veteran, having fought in the British army in the second world war and took part in the Allies landing at Anzio.He has been fighting his case on voting rights since 2009 in the European Court of Human Rights. British citizens may only vote for 15 years after they move outside the UK, after that time they are no longer eligible as they are deemed to have broken their links with the UK. This affects millions of expats. The ECHR deemed it fair for a government to reasonably limit the length of time that a person could retain voting rights, that was in 2006. The United Kingdom while admitting that they may review the law anyway, say that Harry has been in Italy long enough to be entitled to Italian nationality so should apply for this so he can vote here! Surely the right to keep ones nationality and vote in the country where they still consider themselves domiciled, perhaps intending to return one day and with an interrst of the development of the country and its politics, should be a fundamental human right in itself!Harry is hoping that they will reconsider their verdict and make history with this case this week and reach a landmark decision. He has expat groups all over Europe holding their breath.Please do contact me for an update, i will report back here on the decision. email:



Personally speaking, I think that the ECHR is right in their stance. Why should any Expat have the right to influence the Political direction of a Country they no longer have direct (established) ties with. If at any time a Citizen returns to his Native country them Voting rights are regained, so I cannot see the point in granting absentee voting rights over  the 15 year (which is plenty of time to establish ties with your chosen Resident country) cut off. Definitely a case of Cake and Consumption here I think.

Charlotte, it does not affect me because I am a Spanish national; however, I strongly believe that anyone should be entitled to have voting rights as long as you maintain your nationality and you are currently registered with the local Consulate as a national residing in that particular country. This is what many countries do, including Spain. And nobody should be told to relinquish his/her nationality after residing in another country. Citizenship is a basic right. I think that Harry Shindler should get the support from all British expats. 

as usual, very interesting post Charlotte. i personally don't believe in one size fits all either way. maybe there should be facility for exceptional cases (even in human rights context). in this case maybe people who have risked their life for their country should retain life membership so to speak.

Neville Shute wrote a fascinating book (can't remember the title) but in it he made improvements to democracy by giving people (such as war veterans, and rich people) extra votes so that the proles didn't get so large a say. I sincerely hope Nigel Farage hasn't read it - but no, he wouldn't have, would he, he needs the prole vote.. Just some details on this 'not allowed to vote' thng in Italy - I can vote just because I live in Italy (even stand as a candidate) in comune, province, regione, European (though that's slightly more tricky) elections. I can't vote in any UK election, nor in any national Italian election.  If I was desperate to vote in Italian national elections I could become an Itlalian citizen, without giving up my UK citizenship (as far as I have been informed). It does seem that there is no possibility of my voting in any UK election - so as Gala says, it does look like the UK is out of line here, because they don't run the equivalent of an AIRE register which means any Italian living anywhere gets a vote in the Italian (national, and European) elections. 

Decision will be published tomorrow at 10am should be interesting either way it goes. Personally I think it is right to let the individual choose. Only a small percentage of expats want to keep their voting rights indefinitely, and some maintain stronger ties than others. I have been here nearly 15 years, I still have property and mortgage in the UK, my children are half English and I would like them to study in the UK in the future, and I am very involved with the British expat community and the British Embassy in Italy, i work as a lawyer advising on English and Italian law, because I qualified in The UK i still have a practicing certificate issued there. I still consider myself as having UK domicile, I may go back to live there one day. I have very little understanding of Italian politics nor do I understand the electoral system, and it would never occur to me to become an Italian citizen, why should I do that just tonhave the right to vote here? That is my choice. I dont want to be Italian because I am not Italian!!! But If I choose not to I am effectively disenfranchised...

But Charlotte, are you happy with the fact that an Italian who is domicile in another country can influence how you pay your taxes, what social benefits you get and how these taxes will be implemented? Likewise if I was a UK resident would I be happy that a person unaffected by UK politics could influence how the country was run with no consequence? If you make a choice to live in another country and pay taxes etc in that country why should you have the right to influence other peoples lives in a country you chose to leave. This is not about Citizenship but purely ethics on choice.

I do not think that the fact that you are currently living overseas means that you are not affected by decisions made in your native country. This is what other countries think by allowing citizens who live overseas to maintain tneir voting rights. Furthermore, they have members of Parliament who are directly elected by overseas residents and who represent those constituents' interests. Politicians go campaigning overseas whenever there are general elections, visiting those countries that have a high concentration of potential voters.  So, I am sorry, but I think that the UK is out of tune and discriminating against a section of its citizens. France, Italy and Spain, to name the closest ones and the ones who have a large number of UK residents apply these rules regarding voting practices. And the UK-Australia social security bi-lateral agreement would not have been detroyed if the Uk residents in Australia had the right to vote in the UK elections and elect a representative to look after their interests. Now, it is up to you... 

Disappointing. Hharry's application was ruled inadmissible, not in violation of Article 3 of the Convention. Its a very long judgement, getting some press interest in the UK. Harry will fight on the the United Nations now...!  You can see the judgement on the ECHR website, or if interested please contact me by email and I will email you a copy.   charlotte