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Friday, 14 May 2010

The Real Great Ignored: Campaign for prisoners' voting rights.

Today I wrote to the new Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke QC, to ask him to commence a consultation into a very important democratic issue: the disenfranchisement of prisoners.

The issue involves the most fundamental of democratic rights, the right of suffrage. Under the current law, Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, "a convicted person during the time that he is detained in a penal institution in pursuance of his sentence ... is legally incapable of voting at any parliamentary or local election.” This was ruled incompatible with Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of Hirst v. United Kingdom (no. 2). (http://www.bailii.org/eu/cases/ECHR/2005/681.html)

In their judgment, the Grand Chamber recognise that the right of suffrage is not absolute, and that Contracting States must be given a margin of appreciation. More importantly, the Court point to the r'aison d'etre for the provision - punishment. 

Prisoners, by reason of their status, have already received a sentence of imprisonment which is (meant to be) commensurate to their crime. Proscribing them from voting is an affront to democracy and serves no legitimate aim. It merely provides them with a secondary sentence.

The judgment of the ECHR was five years ago. Government must act now to ensure that the prison population are able to vote for the next election , whenever that may be.

I urge all readers to lobby your local Member of Parliament and / or write to the Lord Chancellor.

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