It seems the debate on whether prisoners in the UK should be allowed to vote never really goes away.
Despite a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Britain’s blanket ban on all prisoners voting is a breach of human rights, the UK Government – egged on by large parts of the mainstream media – continues to defy the order.
Its rationale, according to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, is “when you are sent to prison you lose certain rights and one of those rights is the right to vote”.
He added: “Crucially, I believe this should be a matter for Parliament to decide, not a foreign court.”
Cheering from the opposition benches, Labour could not have been more supportive. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls even commented: “If David Cameron is going to go out there and fight this one, we will be supporting him on that.”
It is a reserved matter, but a Scottish Government spokesman confirmed: “The Scottish Government does not agree that convicted prisoners should be able to vote while they are in prison.”
It is important to note the ECHR has said the Government could decide which prisoners should be enfranchised, meaning serious offenders such as murderers and rapists could be excluded. Strasbourg has only said that a blanket ban is wrong.
Professor Alan Miller, chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said: “It is to be hoped that the UK will act, as it has urged other countries to do, by applying the European Convention domestically.”
Caspar Walsh is a supporter of prisoners having the right to vote, he has better experience of the criminal justice system than most.
“I have been part of the UK prison system since the age of 12, as a visitor to my long-serving father, as an inmate and, since serving my last conviction in 1989, as a workshop facilitator and writer in residence in prisons throughout England and Wales,” wrote Walsh, founder of the charity Write to Freedom.
Writing for the Guardian, he said: “A prisoner’s rehabilitation as a safe, responsible and productive member of society must include the most basic right of democratic process – the right to choose who governs us. To remove this right dehumanises prisoners.
“Our streets are rife with blue- and white-collar criminals, convicted, on bail or simply waiting for the fateful tap on the shoulder. Currently, if individuals are convicted of a crime but not given a custodial sentence they are still allowed to vote; why should they be treated differently from convicted criminals who are locked up?”
With inmate numbers both north and south of the border reaching record highs, perhaps giving some prisoners the right to vote may actually force politicians to seriously confront the factors that lead so many into the UK’s revolving door jail culture