Law breakers should not influence law makers

February 10, 2015

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that many UK prisoners should be able to vote in UK elections. The current UK position is that prisoners serving a custodial sentence cannot vote during their period of incarceration but prisoners on remand can vote. There is not sufficient time to legislate to give prisoners the vote prior to the 2015 General Election. However, for future elections the Government may be forced to allow particular offenders to vote. This verdict is wrong and dangerous for four reasons.

First, the victims of these prisoners have been forgotten. In the year ending September 2014 there were 507 recorded homicides in England and Wales. These individuals will not vote again. It is grotesque that prisoners will now be able to vote for candidates promising a reduction in their prison sentences.

Second, the bar on UK prisoners voting is not a blanket ban as the European Court of Human Rights suggest. It applies only during the time an offender is in prison. An offender who has served their sentence can vote as before. The offence committed would have to be serious enough to warrant a prison sentence. Many minor offenders are sentenced to community sentences and they can vote. The only offenders that permanently lose their right to vote are those serving a whole life sentence. All other offenders have a temporary removal of their right to vote while they are in prison. If they don’t break the law again they will not lose their right to vote again.

Third, the European Court of Human Rights has made this decision knowing they were provoking a confrontation with the UK public and UK Government. A YouGov-Cambridge Programme survey of the UK public in January 2015 found that sixty nine per cent, confronted with a statement that a European Court had ruled that a ban on prisoner voting was illegal, agreed with the statement; “UK law should not be changed and prisoners should not be allowed to vote.” Only sixteen per cent backed the option to allow some offenders on shorter sentences to vote. In 2011 UK Parliamentarians voted 234 to 22 to maintain the ban on prisoners voting.

Fourth, this unelected court, based in Strasbourg, has no democratic legitimacy. There are 800 million citizens subject to the European Court of Human Rights in the forty-seven countries that are signatories to the ECHR. Only 318 citizens are appointed to sit on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and can vote for the ECHR judges, and of these eighteen are sitting British MPs or Members of the House of Lords. There is no danger of a canvasser calling at your door to get you to vote for them to be your representative on PACE. British citizens are not part of the electorate.

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