The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill today published its report – you can read it in full here (PDF/HTML/conclusions). I gave evidence to the committee a few weeks ago – you can watch again here.
The report strongly recommends enacting legislation so that ” all prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less should be entitled to vote in all UK parliamentary, local and European elections”. The recommendation could not be more emphatic, with the committee concluding, amongst other things:
- “the United Kingdom is under a binding international law obligation to comply with the Hirst judgment”
- “it would be completely unprecedented for any state that has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights to enact legislation in defiance of a binding ruling of the European Court of Human Rights”
- “the arguments for relaxing this prohibition are, on any rational assessment, persuasive”
- “The Government has failed to advance a plausible case for the prohibition in terms of penal policy”
- “disenfranchisement linked to detention is an ineffective and arbitrary punishment”
- “We acknowledge that public opinion appears at present to be against prisoners voting. However, it is difficult to judge how deep-rooted these views are, given that the debate over prisoner voting has so often been lost in the wider debate over the United Kingdom’s relationships both with the European Court of Human Rights and the European Union”
- “The public has yet to be presented either with the clear evidence that the current prohibition is both arbitrary and ineffective”
- only five Council of Europe states still “maintain a comprehensive prohibition on prisoner voting, the others being Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Russia”
- “we do not believe that the Government itself should be proposing to Parliament an option that it knows to be unlawful”l [i.e. a bill, as proposed by the Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling, with an option maintaining the status quo]
So, a powerful statement of the Government’s rule of law responsibilities as well as a crushing indictment of the current policy on simple grounds of rationality.
The Government should listen very carefully to this joint committee and do what is right by complying with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The committee has found that “arguments for relaxing this prohibition are, on any rational assessment, persuasive“. The Government, and the Prime Minister who hitherto has found it difficult to stomach the idea of any prisoners voting, should now do what is right on this issue, not what they think is popular.
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