Should British prisoners be allowed to vote?

by evolvedlegal on May 4, 2012

The right to vote

At the turn of the twentieth century only men had the right to vote in the UK. Many women were in outcry and those who made up the Suffragettes employed violent, militant tactics to turn the attention of the nation to the inequality taking place. Emily Davison felt so incensed by the deprivation of this fundamental right that she sacrificed her own life, throwing herself at the feet of the King’s horse during the Epsom Derby of 1913. It was not until 1928 that women were given the right to vote on the same terms as their masculine counterparts. Today the western world prides itself on being democratic, with each citizen furnished with the choice of who will govern their nation. In 2011 and 2012 we have seen a trend in pro-democracy uprisings, with the people of Egypt and Libya taking to the streets and putting their life on the line. The right to vote is at the very heart of any democracy and, so it appears, is a right worth fighting for.

Britain’s stance on prisoner’s voting rights

Britain has decided that its prisoners should not have the right to vote and there exists a blanket ban on convicted prisoners, preventing them from voting. This ban was challenged in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in 2006. The ECtHR decided that the blanket ban on prisoners voting was contrary to the first protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The first protocol provides that, as a party to the convention, Britain should hold free elections in such a way as to ensure that all people are allowed to freely express their opinion as to who should govern their country.

Will Britain change?

Britain does not need to give all prisoners the vote in order to become convention compliant but must move from its current stance of an absolute ban. Prisoners whose human rights are being breached may sue the British government. Two such prisoners have already made court claims and been awarded nearly £5,000 each by the ECtHR. If the government refuse to change their ways it could prove to be a very expensive decision for the public purse.

Should prisoners be allowed to vote?

The government, amongst other functions, make the laws which we must abide by. If we breach these rules of society the courts, acting under powers given to them by parliament, may exercise extraordinary powers over us. Judges are able to deprive us of our liberty, order us to pay money and even take away our children as part of English family law. Not all governments would implement the same laws and we may not agree with the laws brought into existence. It is right that even if we don’t agree with a law, the breaking of it should result in punishment, but should we not have the right to voice an opinion as to the identity of the law makers? The Dutch government for example have decriminalised cannabis, the British government most certainly have not. If a British prisoner is serving time for a cannabis-related offence and thinks cannabis should be decriminalized, hence feeling morally blameless for his actions, should he not be allowed to vote for a political party who share his view and, if in power, would follow the lead of the Dutch government? It seems that voting really is at the very heart of a democracy and no one should be deprived of that right. We are yet to see whether the British government will take this on board.

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