Prisoner vote bill to be outlined


Convicted killer John Hirst, who took the government to court over the issue, spoke to the BBC in 2010

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The government's draft bill on prisoner voting is to be outlined by the justice secretary on Thursday, the BBC understands.

Its options could include votes for those serving less than six months, or those serving less than four years.

Friday is the deadline for the UK to comply with a European ruling that a current blanket ban is unlawful.

Sources had told the BBC there would be a vote on Thursday, but a source close to the justice secretary denied this.

The source would not elaborate further on whether MPs will be given a free vote at a later date.

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason said there would be a discussion looking at various options, with the aim of convincing judges in Strasbourg that the government was at least looking at the issues. The court has the power to fine the UK if it feels it is in breach of its rulings.

Our correspondent said it was likely MPs would uphold the ban on prisoner voting, where there is strong cross-party agreement on the issue.

'Clear' right

In February 2011, the Commons voted overwhelmingly against giving votes to prisoners. At present, the only prisoners allowed to vote in the UK are those on remand.

Last month Prime Minister David Cameron told the Commons: "No-one should be under any doubt - prisoners are not getting the vote under this government."

Start Quote

What they're now doing is preparing the way to give votes to prisoners”

End Quote Steve McCabe Labour MP

Mr Grayling has said Parliament has the right in law to tell the ECHR that it does not accept its ruling, but said there would be "consequences" for the UK's position in Europe if MPs chose to defy the judgement.

Conservative MP, Sir Edward Garnier, a former solicitor general, said the justice secretary was stuck between its obligations to respect the European judgement and the opposition in parliament.

"Parliament and the wider general public simply don't want to be told what to do by the European Court of Human Rights, not least in this particular regard," he said.

Flouting law

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said a vote on legislation would strengthen the UK's argument that it should retain its ban.

"You have to keep going back to the European Court on this because I think the job of the European Court is to look at what is proportionate, what is responsible," she told the BBC's Sunday Politics.

"We haven't passed laws on this before, even though we have passed motions, and I think when we do so, the European Court should look at it again."

Labour MP Steve McCabe said the discussion marked the beginning of a climbdown by the government.

"The prime minister and the justice secretary gave us an assurance that this wouldn't happen and that they would deal with the court. What they're now doing is preparing the way to give votes to prisoners. It's just another broken promise," he said.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Is it wise for the government to flout international law, face a substantial fine and millions in mounting compensation claims, ignore the advice of its attorney general, prison governors, bishops to, and inspectors of, prison, and take up Parliamentary time and taxpayers' money in order to stop sentenced prisoners from acting responsibly by voting in democratic elections?"

The ECHR ruled in 2005 it was a breach of human rights to deny prisoners a vote.

The court said it was up to individual countries to decide which inmates should be denied the right to vote from jail, but that a total ban was illegal.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The government is considering how best to proceed following the judgment of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Scoppola. An announcement will be made to Parliament shortly."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Judging by many comments here people still confuse the EU with the ECHR - although membership of the EU depends in part on signing up to the ECHR, they are separate. Indeed many non EU countries are "members" of the ECHR. Further I point out that it was Churchill who was very keen on our signing up to the ECHR (in 1950) and took us in. The ECHR is about protecting the individual against the STATE

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The European court has simply said it is wrong to stop all prisoners voting. No one is saying child murderers, terrorists and so on should have the vote. Just give it to those in prison for sentences less than 6 months, or those where no violence against persons has ocurred

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    The danger with taking the vote away from all those in prison is it can make it difficult to get bad laws changed or abolished (which is what dictators like). For instance, most of us would be against a law that made it illegal to criticise the govt. But if you're banged up for campaigning against such a law, and have no vote, you've no legal way of opposing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    The UK has a strict adherence to human rights laws?
    We are one of only three countries in Europe to specifically opt out of the charter of fundamental rights because our government didn't want us to have basic economic or social rights enshrined in law. Not to mention we routinely arrest and deport people without trial, and our government is complaining they cant do this where torture is a risk?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    if Davey boy does not want prisoners to have the vote then he surely it must mean he does not beleive in the penal system, therefore how come the unelected Archer & Co who are excons are still in the House of Lords lording it over us law abiding peopleand voting and making decisions over an elected Commons. Cameron is like a chameleon changes his colour constantly to suit his spinning

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Not disagreeing with prisoners not getting a vote but those saying any person sent to jail is forfeiting all normal privileges is on a slippery slope as it will mean the lynch mob deciding rules rather than law.

    I have read before that allowing the vote for certain offences or terms of incarceration will solve this issue so why the delay.

    Is Cameron's dislike of Europe clouding his judgement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    There are people behind bars whom we could all name, whose crimes sickened us.
    If you were an MP, would you want a psycho's vote?

    -There is a considerable difference between someone imprisoned for a psychopathic murder (who wouldn't have the vote any way under the Mental Health Act) and someone imprisoned for non payment of a fine for not having a TV Licence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    "The ECRH ruled in 2005 it was a breach of human rights to deny prisoners a vote."

    So who voted for the ECRH that they could tell us to change our law?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Clearly if someone is imprisoned for a short term for a lesser crime they should not be denied the vote. Otherwise it is just a lottery as to whether they spend their time behind bars during an election or not.

    However, for a crime with a sentence, for example, longer than a parliamentary term, they should not get the vote. But then, they are not going to anyway.

  • Comment number 33.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Seems like an awfully extreme reaction to the low turn out at the Police Commissioner vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    "21. Pascal
    Human rights can't be traded away when you commit a crime..."
    Surely the most basic human right is the right to live. When you have prisoners who have taken this right away from others then they absolutely should forfeit certain human rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    On a serious note it is just arguing for arguing sake there is no reason why some prisoners should not be able to vote they have more time to weigh the pros and cons so there vote might be better informed than a lot of us

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I am sick and tired of people playing the human rights card everytime. If you break the law and go to prison, you should still be treated like a human being obviously, but you should also lose certain rights. It is supposed to be a punishment so why should they have the right to vote. If they feel that strongly about losing their individual rights, they shouldn't have done the crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Issues like this are the very reason so many people want the Human rights act removing.
    Why should people like Phillip Greenwood, 60 from Burnley, jailed for 1 year for downloading indecent videos of children be allowed a vote.

    For god sake MP's grow a pair & tell Europe to get stuffed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    @3 - see BBC article on pick & mix rules; being sent to jail for not having the correct ticket on a train - is that really a crime of such gravity? A blanket ban is not proportionate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Why is it that Parliament is given multiple votes on Prisoners rights, yet it is not offered a vote on whether we should be allowing the EU to dictate our laws?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.


  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I can just imagine convicted prisoners voting for their local PCC! I do not need any more convincing that we should leave the EU and its Court.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Give Prisoners a Vote.

    It's the only way we'll see 16% turnout at an Election.


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