Parliament was on a collision course with European judges last night after the Justice Secretary insisted it would have the final say on prisoner votes.
Chris Grayling attempted to buy the Government more time in its long-running legal battle by announcing that a joint committee of both Houses will look at the issue.
But he stressed that Parliament was “sovereign” and had the power to defy the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Even if Strasbourg tried to impose fines, MPs could choose not to pay them.
The approach was branded “inadequate” by prisoners’ lawyers, who accused the Government of trying to stall until after the general election.
But former policing minister Nick Herbert urged the coalition to go further by withdrawing from the ECHR’s jurisdiction altogether.
Mr Grayling set out his plans to MPs on the eve of a deadline for complying with the judgment – part of a fight that has been running since 2005.
He said the Government had an “obligation” under international law to bring forward proposals to obey the ruling.
But he also pointed to David Cameron’s previous comments that the idea of giving prisoners the vote made him feel “physically ill”.
He said: “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.”
The joint committee is being asked to examine three options. The first would allow those sentenced to less than four years to vote, while another would set the limit at six months.
The third option is to re-enact the existing ban with “minor changes”, so anyone serving a custodial sentence would be unable to vote.