Will some prisoners win the right to vote?

Some will say that it is high time that Parliament debated the issue of whether to give prisoners the right to vote, and if so, which ones. We are, after all, a democracy.

Many of you may well be familiar with the government's predicament by now.  Should they adhere to the UK ban on prisoners voting or  change the policy and allow some prisoners to vote in answer to criticism from the European Court of Human Rights.  Prisoners were prohibited from voting under the Forfeiture Act 1870.  The ban was temporarily lifted in the 60s and 70s, only for the ban to be reinstated by the Rerpresentation of the People Act 1983.

So what do we do apart from getting all hot and bothered and rant about Parliamentary sovereignty?  It is important to remember that the ECHR problem with the ban is that it considered the 'blanket ban' to be discriminatory.  You may remember that the case was brought before the Court by the convicted killer John Hirst. This sort of problem is not new, and some law students may be familiar with the European court's ruling in the case of Britain's national database which, unlike some other countries, retains profiles of persons who have not been convicted of any offence - until the law is to be changed in accordance with proposals. 

What are the issues?  Where does Prime Minister David Cameron stand?  Finally where will the line be drawn in the sand?

It has been widely reported that David Cameron would like to resist full reinstatement and his government has outlined proposals for the ban to apply to all prisoners serving four or more years in prison.  Some argue that we should operate a minimalistic approach and grant the right to as few prisoners as possible.  Are we to move away from a four year limit to a limit of one year or less?

Civitas, an independent think tank which seeks to deepen public understanding of the legal, institutional and moral framework that makes society, disagrees with the views of John Hirst who is on record recently as saying "All prisoners can do is riot if they've got a complaint, so you've got to give them this legitimate channel."  This seems to be the reverse of the present blanket ban!  Is it right to say that the only option is to give all prisoners the vote?

There are some who point to the issue of rehabilitation and this includes The Prison Governors Association which has warned that the ban may hamper inmates’ rehabilitation.

Others argue that the ban should be retained for prisoners convicted of murder and serious offences for which they are serving a life sentence.  Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust , has joined the debate and is reported as saying that many prison governors believe voting is an important part of resettlement and prison is about rehabilitation as well as punishment.

Let's hope that the debate will continue.


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