Votes for prisoners – draft bill published

The Ministry of Justice has just published the Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Draft Bill as a Command Paper. As widely predicted, it has three options:

  • to maintain the current ban on any convicted prisoner voting;
  • to allow prisoners sentenced to less than 6 months to vote; or
  • to allow prisoners sentenced to less than 4 years to vote.

Whether or not this will satisfy the ECtHR remains to be seen. Over at UKHRB Adam Wagner thinks not; and for what it’s worth (which, if I’m honest, is not a lot) I rather agree with him.

As I have observed before, this should be just as much a source of disquiet for those who are concerned with religion, human rights and Article 9 as for those who are concerned about the right to vote under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1. Adherence to the terms of the ECHR is not pick-and-choose: as the Attorney said himself in his recent appearance before the House of Commons Justice Committee:

 “Inevitably, if we were to be in default of a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, while clearly there would be some people who could put forward logical arguments as to why we should be, equally I have absolutely no doubt that it would be seen by other countries as a move away from our strict adherence to human rights norms.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

4 thoughts on “Votes for prisoners – draft bill published

  1. A society, a political class, or a political party that is in government, which only keeps a tiny fraction of its population in prison, and without any social class, ethnicity or shade of political opinion being over-represented amongst the ranks of prisoners, has nothing to fear from allowing all prisoners to vote. Giving the vote to all prisoners would be very unlikely to change the election results.

    A society, a political class, or a political party that keeps a significantly large proportion of its population behind bars at any given time, and especially if this imprisoned portion of the population comes predominantly from particular social classes, ethnicities or shades of political opinion, perhaps deserves to have its election results changed as a result of allowing those it imprisons to affect election results.

    If the issue that makes certain politicians reluctant simply to give the vote to ALL prisoners isn’t the risk of less desirable candidates being elected if the entire imprisoned population is allowed to vote, then what IS that great issue of principle that these politicians want to defend?

  2. I believe the principal reason historically why prisoners have not been allowed to vote, is that voting involved going to the polling station, and prisoners were not allowed to vote for the same reason that they were not allowed to go to the pub or for a walk in the park. Now that tHhe right to vote by post has been established, this reason no longer applies, so it is necessary to consider the principle. Do prisoners think it is important for them to vote, for example, if someone they admire is standing for a parish council within the parish where their prison is located? I wonder if there are statistics showing what proportion of prisoners who have been released exercise their right to vote, in comparison with honest and decent citizens? I suspect the number of former prisoners voting is very small.

    If there are 1000 prisoners in the parish and 100 ordinary residents, is it right that they should be able to choose 10 criminals to sit on the parish council who will ensure that CCTV is not installed around the duck pond? Or is it just that these convicts want to be able to claim compensation from the Government for the denial of their human rights?

    Should they be able to elect an unconvicted criminal as Police and Crime Commissioner? Should they be able to elect a Mayor of London who will devote all the available grants to charities helping prisoners and none to any others. If it is wrong to deny convicted persons the opportunity to engage in the democratic system, why do MPs and peers object to convicts being allowed to retain their seats? In a despotic regime like Zimbabwe political opponents are rounded up and not allowed to vote. That is a strong argument against despotic regimes, but it is not an argument for allowing prisoners the vote. I support Lord Lester’s view that the Government has to respect the decisions of the ECtHR but that is not to say that the Court’s decision is right.

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