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 82.


    The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is an international treaty to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 (In London) by the then newly formed Council of Europe,the convention entered into force on 3 September 1953.

    It has absolutely Bugger All to do with the EU!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Perhaps they should have experimented by giving prisoners the vote in the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

    Prisoners have first hand experience of crime so could have voted from a position of knowledge... and it might have got the turn-out figures up a bit.....!

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    I do not see how the Tory misgovernment are remotely qualified to discuss this issue, many of them being on the verge of offending themselves.

    Tax dodgers, bank fraud, hording other folks money, failing the economy, deliberately impoverishing, taking greedy advantage? The list goes on and on

    This unelected misgovernment has no moral authority whatsoever

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Surely in a democracy it is democratic right to be able to vote against legislation by which you are imprisoned. If you cannot vote down laws by which you are imprisoned, that is tyranny.
    It doesn't what matter what law you have broken. laws are just a majority opinion and lawbreaking merely an active dissent.

  • Comment number 78.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Give them the vote.
    But they have to make their own way to the polling station on the day of polling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    If you break the law, you violate your own human rights. No vote you you my friend. Actions and consequences.

    Continually amused at peoples persistence mentioning MP's expenses and bankers bonuses. You know who you are. Pick up a paper once in a while, find something new!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    This is stupidly simple.....tell the EU "eh naw, its no happenin"...and thats an end of it, the French/Spanish/Italians ignore EU diktats whenever it suits them, high time our politicians grew a spine and did the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Why are we concerned with the rights of people who have totally ignored the rights of the victims/society to the norms of a Law abiding existence.
    Want to vote - Dont commit crime simples.
    This is one way Lags may see to sue the govt, as much as I think this Govt is lame, this is one area the Govt can appear tough and decisive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    One would assume that inside the prison there would be a lot more Cons than Pros.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    We need to set out guidelines which clearly state which sort of sentence will deprive the prisoner from voting,I don't have detalis in such short space but for simplicity let's say murderers, rapist and Jimmy Savile's crew don't get the vote, property protecting people, self defenders do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    ECHR is not the same thing as the EU

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Oh dear , a prisoner voted , it's the end of society as we know it ? Who actually cares one jot ,whether a prisoner gets a vote or not? What difference will it make to anybody's life anyway?- none what so ever!

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    OK - so the guy in prison gets the vote. Who do they vote for? The local MP or the one in whose constituency they lived? How do they vote? By postal vote? Do they have a polling booth in the prison? Postal votes are open to abuse. How do they receive literature on the candidates. This idea is stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    60. Trout Mask Replica
    Euro flunky Cameron will do what he is told by Brussels no matter how hard he huffs and puffs for the press, time he grew a pair."

    For goodness sake, how many more times does it have to be repeated that this issue has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with Brussels.
    Thats like saying our courts have no say in our politics and vica versa..

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    It's not just a simple case of all prisoners don't get the vote. Certain crimes do not get the vote - murder, rape etc. Minor crimes and low sentences should result in prisoners being able to vote - at least they would realise that they have a responsibility to the society they have abused. This sounds a bit 'wet' but there is a line where a prisoner is out of bounds and cannot therefore vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    The vote is a human right and should be valued by those that have it. If you commit a serious crime against another person, or people, then you have denied them their human rights and by default you have broken the contract between yourself and the people. On that basis long term prisoners should not have the right to vote because they have, by their actions,broken the contract.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    58.Damian - "be ironic if, after all the other stuff we've put up with, it's this issue that forces a break with europe"

    Which bit of Europe are you thinking about? I assume you are not talking about the EU, as they have nothing whatsoever to do with the ECHR.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.


    "A criminal act severe enough to warrant a custodial sentence shows society that the criminal has little regard for civil rights. These should be taken away for the duration of their sentence"

    Totally agree, all those imprisoned for heinous crimes such as 'failure to pay a TV Licence' etc should be banged up and have all their rights taken away...

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    If you are in prison you contribute nothing to society and so have no reason to vote.... you gave up the right to vote when you were convicted. I can't see the argument, you don't sign up to a prison sentence like a phone contract....or do you?


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