Thursday, February 10, 2011


Give prisoners the Vote? Yes, Think So, for Minor Offenders

As I write this the Commons is debating a motion proposed by David Davis and Jack Straw to reject moves to comply with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights(ECHR) that with-holding the vote from prisoners is a denial of their human rights. The vote is expected to go heavily in favour of the motion; however, it will not be binding on ministers.

The ECHR judgment was made as long ago as 2005 and there are fears that unless some action is taken there will be cases pursued by prisoners for compensation. If rapists and paedophiles win compensation packages you can just imagine the howls of fevered outrage that will emanate from The Sun, The Mail and all shades of opinion to the right of well left of centre. Why left of centre?

Because many Labour MPs are as exercised over the issue as Tory MPs. The fact is public opinion on law and order is well to the right in this country, MPs of all parties know that, and even if they disagree, they have to recognise the force of such feelings and their electoral implications. Cameron has even opined that the very idea of prisoners voting makes him feel 'physically ill'.

How should wee feel on the issue? I think, on balance,the right to vote should be given to certain categories of prisoners because:

1. I don't think it right that someone's civic rights should be abolished as soon as they walk behind the doors of a prison. I think Rowan Williams got it right when he told the the All Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs – ahead of today’s debate on the matter:

“We’re in danger of perpetuating a penal philosophy and system which actually leaves everybody as victims."

2. Conservatives- well Ken Clarke anyway, have sworn they are in favour of rehabilitating prisoners and making them productive members of society, not to mention their families, who, experience suggests tend to follow in the footsteps of such transgressors as they grow up.

3. The ruling is in line with international law to which the UK is subject. The ECHR is not part of the EU, sceptics should appreciate, but predates it and whose central legal tenets were written by British lawyers, based on British legal thinking and traditions.

4. If the ruling is violated huge compensation sums-'tens of millions'- may be payable to prisoners.

5. It is unlikely that many prisoners will utilize their right to vote. Straw has told the House:

"In 32 years in this House, of the hundreds of complaints from prisoners with which I have dealt, neither I nor my staff can even recall one letter from a real prisoner calling for the right to vote from prison - not one."

6. It seems harsh to rule that shoplifters and petty thieves have 'broken their contract with society', though for more serious offenders, serving longer sentences, this might prove too big a step for the public to accept. Surely such peoiple should not be condemned as 'lost to society'?

7. Ireland lifted its ban in 2006 and in 13 European countries the right to vote depends on the crime committed or the sentence to be served. The map above shows how European countries divide on the issue.

Be true to our liberal traditions is what I say and, like other similar European countries, allow minor offenders to retain the vote.

You must feel so proud, standing alongside Twitter Queen McCarthy
on this isshoe.

The real problem is that it highlights the administration - just like the previous one(s) - applying the law when it suit them. When it's suddenly declared politically inconvenient to have Europe telling us what to do, the ConDems think that they have the right to simply pick and choose bits of the law which they like, and ignore laws that they don't like.

Pols, eh, what's to like about them ?
'I don't think it right that someone's civic rights should be abolished as soon as they walk behind the doors of a prison.'

On that reasoning however, you could argue forcing somebody to walk through the doors of a prison is technically a human rights violation in any case. It denies prisoners freedom of movement/assembly etc. And if so, why is this allowed while disbarment from voting is not?

Finally a genuine question. There are three colours on the map's key to cover all eventualities, and a large slab of grey to denote France, Belgium, Holland, Finland, Spain and Portugal. Do they not have a policy, are they somehow not signatories to the ECHR, or is it under review?
Worth bearing in mind that the vote is onoly advisory and that most MPs abstained.
Agree imprisonment is a restriction of civic rights as punishment for a violation of a civic rule. However we do not sanction, for example, torture, or starvation as in the Gulag. I think denial of liberty is punitive enough without impeding the possible rehabilitation of offenders.
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