Thursday, 22 November 2012

Prisoner voting

By today, the government was required to bring forward legislative proposals relating to prisoner voting.  A DRAFT Bill has been issued - Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Draft Bill

The Bill presents three options for reform:

Option 1: ban for prisoners sentenced to 4 years or more

Option 2: ban for prisoners sentenced to more than 6 months

Option 3: ban for all prisoners - (the draft bill states - "re-enacts the current general ban on prisoner voting, but with a few minor changes")

Quite clearly, Option 3 cannot be compliant with the obligation placed on the UK by decisions of the European Court of Human Rights since the court decided that it was the blanket ban which was non-compliant with Protocol 1 to the Convention.

The executive clearly does not wish to alter the present law and this draft bill may be viewed as a cynical attempt at being able to claim that the government is respecting the convention whilst simultaneously ducking the issue.  The draft bill will undergo "pre-legislative scrutiny" thereby delaying reform for as long a period as possible.  For how long?  Who knows - perhaps beyond the present Parliament.

It seems somewhat odd that when the Ministry of Justice is talking seriously about a revolution in rehabilitation and restorative justice it is refusing to properly get to grips with the prisoner voting issue.  Many argue that deprivation of voting rights works against rehabilitation.

An important point should be borne in mind.  The European Court judgment in Greens and MT v UK also requires the UK to actually alter the law within a period to be determined by the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers.

How judgments of the court are enforced was looked at in  Prisoner Votes ~ The Battle lines are drawn - 25th October 2012

Recommended reading:

UK Human Rights blog - Adam Wagner - "A £1000 prisoner vote signing on bonus"

Parliament Briefing Paper 22nd November 2012


  1. They've missed a trick here.
    Option 4: ban for all prisoners other than MPs convicted of expenses fraud.
    It wouldn't be a blanket ban, even though there aren't any in prison at present.

    1. It may be that the real trick they have missed is to see what Italy's position was. It's all in the Scoppola judgment. Some of their bans extend beyond the actual period of imprisonment and may, sometimes, extend for life. One of the main requirements is to reserve the ban for serious offenders.

  2. <= four years buyt only if you were already on the electoral register (or, I suppose, attain eighteen while in custody).

  3. s1.2 of the Ministerial Code, which is binding on all Ministers, including both the Prime Minister and the Lord Chanchellor, recalls "the overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the aw including international law and treaty obligations"; it will be very interesting to see to what extent government law officers manage to convince ministers of their obligations in this respect, however sick it may make some of them feel.

    Secondly, it transpires that service personnel in detention at the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester are not covered by s3 RPA and retain the right to vote so long as they remain in detention at this facility. Those who are transferred to 'civilian' prisons (whether because of the length of their sentence, or the need for hospital or high security conditions) immediately come under s3, which is place dependent. This anomaly blows several holes in the arguments of those who oppose both the practicalities ad the principle of affording those in detention the right to vote under certain conditions. I sincerely hope that by mentioning it here, I don't provoke an attempt to close off this air vent!

  4. For 'aw' please read 'law' (in the citation from the Ministerial Code).