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Britain could maintain prisoners' voting ban: minister

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(LONDON) - Britain's justice minister told lawmakers on Thursday they could vote to maintain a ban on prisoners voting, defying a European ruling.

With Britain facing a midnight deadline to comply with a European edict that the current blanket ban is unlawful, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling insisted British lawmakers had the power to maintain a ban if they voted to do so.

He told parliament that a committee of both houses of parliament would consider three options: maintaining the existing ban; giving the vote to convicted prisoners serving up to six months, or giving it to those serving up to four years.

Maintaining the ban would contradict a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted that prisoners will not be given the vote in the three remaining years of this parliament and has said in the past the idea made him feel "physically ill".

In February, lawmakers voted by 234 to 22 to keep the ban.

Grayling told lawmakers: "The prime minister has made clear on the record his personal view on this subject. I have done the same and those views have not changed.

"The current law passed by parliament remains in force unless and until parliament decides to change it."

Nils Muiznieks, Human Rights Commissioner at the Council of Europe -- the body that oversees the ECHR -- took issue with Grayling's analysis.

"The UK decided to delegate some small part of its sovereignty to the Council of Europe when it joined and when it agreed to abide by the rulings of the court," he told BBC radio.

He said that while Britain had "a lot of room for manoeuvre" on how it complied with court's judgement, it needed to act.

Britain has been at odds with the European court since 2005 when it ruled that the ban on voting was a breach of human rights in response to a challenge by a convicted killer, John Hirst.

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