Prisoner voting rights

55720The issue of whether or not prisoners should have the right to vote is highly contentious and the previous and the present Government would rather the issue had not arisen.  Given the continuing pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, the Government have produced a draft Voter Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill, which is being considered by a Joint Committee.  As regular readers will know, I serve on the committee.  I have variously reported on our activities, including the visit to two prisons.  The week before last, we took evidence from the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe.  On Wednesday of last week, we had our final evidence-taking session, when we heard from the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling.  Anyone interested in the session can watch the proceedings hereThe opening shots give some indication of how ministers usually turn up with a retinue of officials.  The minister’s answers, or in some cases non-answers, reveal the conundrum he faces.

As we have completed taking evidence, our task now is to prepare and agree a report.  We have until 18 December to do so.  Given the contentious nature of the issue, and the fact that our members are drawn from different viewpoints, it is going to be an interesting exercise.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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6 Responses to Prisoner voting rights

  1. Tony Sands says:

    Is this so contentious? I do not believe in using referenda to decide on significant issues- constitutional or otherwise- but if the voting public were asked to give a yes/no answer in a referendum on the issue of prisoner voting eligibility, I think the answer would be clear so why must parliament legislate. Is the law at present clear or is lack of legislation the basis for a legal challenge to the status quo?

  2. tizres says:

    British voters are banned from voting in general elections if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years. Neither the UK nor the European Parliament appear to be overly fussed by this greater anomaly of disqualification by residence.

    So, what is the legal status of prisons as a place of residence? I note some confusion has arisen because of legislation banning smoking in public places yet, for now, a cell is considered to be a prisoner’s ‘home’, as temporary or permanent as the sentence. However, a couple of prisons will pilot a ban on smoking throughout the buildings from April 2014 which would effectively reverse the notion of residence.

    Residence also matters when opening a bank account. A prisoner can complete a Personal Identification Document in which the address used is the expected one after release.*

    I’ll rest my case now, the gist is clear I’m sure, though one last example, this time from the point of view of people who are homeless or at a temporary address:

    “Those who have no fixed address can also register to vote by completing a ‘declaration of local connection’, available from their local Electoral Registration Office. The declaration requires an individual to give an address which meets one of the following criteria:

    where they would be living if it were not for their current situation
    where they have lived in the past
    where they spend a substantial part of their time, such as a day centre”**

    The issue of residency and British voting rights might best be summed up as a shrug of the shoulders after a toss of a coin by a senior Met Office researcher during a coalition gvt.

    * PSI 44 appears to be out of date (as of 1 Aug 2013) and I have not made a huge effort to find its update, if it exists

  3. maude elwes says:

    In order to give this matter a little perspective, I feel it would be good if we knew which other countries ban those sentenced to imprisonment. They include:

    Armenia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxemburg, Romania and Russia.

    And here we see the argument for prisoners rights written far better than I could ever put it.

  4. tizres says:

    Apologies for o/t but the following begs the question, why?:

    “British citizens living abroad will also be able to marry someone of the same sex under UK law in British consulates and military bases from next June, but only if the host countries agree.”

    If British citizens marry on ‘British territory’ why do they need the permission of the host country, and why the delay?

    • maude elwes says:

      Because the host country may storm the place that goes against its traditional beliefs and those who take such action could end up in dire straits. That’s why. Ignorance is apparently bliss with some loony lefties. Very few countries in the world go along with this distortion of human marriage. So the high horse you sit on is an anomaly not the righteous steed you believe it to be.

      Very few people on the planet agree with your stance. You are in a minority. So, in other countries democracy rules. Not so here.

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