A Victory for Common Sense or a Breach of Human Rights???

The recent Supreme Court decision over whether prisoners can vote can be seen as another battle with the European Union over the British legal system. The Supreme Court have rejected the appeals of both Peter Chester and George McGeoch who argued that their right of access to elections under Protocol 1 Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights was violated by Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 which prevents a convicted person from voting in any local or Parliamentary elections.

At a recent Yougov poll 63% of people asked responded that No prisoners should be allowed to vote at elections which shows a willingness among the British people to ignore the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) who decided in a previous case that the Representation of the People Act was in contradiction with the Human Rights convention. David Cameron has firmly put himself against the ECHR by saying that the idea of giving prisoners the vote makes him sick.

It must seem strange to some that it is or might be possible to be deprived of ones liberty for crimes against the state but still retain the right to vote and to decide the laws that imprison them. However what must be noted is that the European Court of Human Rights said that only a blanket ban would be against EU law and therefore that it was possible to ban some (just not all) prisoners. This leads to the question of where to draw the line and how. Should crimes be specified as to which would deprive someone the right to vote or should it be determined by the sentence length. People who hears this will have their own view as to prison voting rights but of the instances below where would you draw the line and deprive them of the right to vote;

A)     Someone who was convicted for life for raping and murdering a young woman.

B)      A drug addict who has been sentenced for 5 years for possession of Amphetamines, a B class drug. Has previous drug use background

C)      A woman sentenced for 6 months for drink driving

To some people, such as the Prison Reform Trust, we must take a similar stance to South Africa who do not place any such restrictions on prisoners right to vote while others; including some MP’s are in favour of a threshold of either six months or four years, above which a convicted person would be unable to vote during the time of imprisonment.

This is something will return to the headlines as Britain is in direct contradiction with the ECHR over this issue but still has the support of the voters and a Prime Minister willing to fight over the issue. The question of when or what will cause you to lose your right to vote is an issue that will be seen by many, on both sides of the issue, as a moral question that needs to be solved.

Jack Fennell


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