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 522.

    Why not make the vote one of the 'rewards' that convicts may receive if they are of good behaviour behind bars? Those who are making genuine attempts to turn their lives around, and who are cooperating, taking education or anger management courses as appropriate, getting clean of any drug habits, participating in restorative justice and the like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    Just saw the clown, David Davis, on TV claiming that when we signed up to the convention in the 1950s, we did not give the court the authority to rule on matters of law. Wrong. And if we choose to ignore law we dislike what next - locking up opponents? This is not about votes for prisoners, it is about politicians having the same respect for the law they expect others to have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 520.

    #510: "PM Cameron is again playing to the gallery and appealing to people's fears"

    Indeed. I wonder which gallery Cameron is playing to when calling on Israel to stop defending itself while expressing no more than "sympathy" for Hamas's murderous rocket attacks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 519.

    I would have no problem with people on short sentences, say 6 months or less, being able to vote. After all a parliament lasts for 4 years, if they had committed their crime (or at least been sentenced) 6 months earlier or later they would be able to vote anyway.

  • Comment number 518.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 517.

    @506 Steady on, don't let them have jobs, I've spent nearly a year trying very hard to get a minimum wage job without success. Getting banged up is the only way I, and many others could even hope to get a job in your scenario.

  • rate this

    Comment number 516.

    So someone is sent tp prison for none payment of TV Licence and loses their vote, thats a great way of getting people to partake in the political process. Just because someone has comitted a crime does not mean that they should be denied a vote in the system that they are part of. If you do forfeit all rights then all we will create is the rebellion of the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 515.

    Simply No. Prisoners already get more than what the average law abiding citizen has, they get playstations, TV's, pool tables, gym membership, free food, free washing, free accomodation. I cant afford half of this stuff. Atleast with them not having the vote, it is something I can say I have and they dont. I Hope the UK tells the EU where it can stick its law. We decide on our laws, not Brussles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 514.

    Corporate tax cheating - criminal that. or at least it could be, with a change of legislation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 513.

    If a total ban is illegal why not give the right to vote to the prisoners on death row. Not a blanket ban in place and still giving them majority of the country what they want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 512.

    507 ruminations

    "of the 17 ECHR representatives appointed to the panel that rode roughshod over 100years of British law many had no judicial experience"

    I think the above fact goes quite some way to explaining why the ECHR decided in Hirst's favour ... the other is that they are determined to stamp their authority over member states and will take every opportunity to do so even if not fair

  • Comment number 511.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 510.

    Whatever the rights or wrongs in this case, one thing is certain: PM Cameron is again playing to the gallery and appealing to people's fears in order to appear a populist politician, while at the same time holding in contempt those very people he is trying to manipulate. He really needs locking up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 509.

    'A total ban would be illegal'. Easy to solve. Prisoners who are within one week of their set release date should be allowed the vote as the final step of their hoped for rehailitation.
    If Human Rights Lawyers want to split hairs then so can Parliament.
    I don't want this and other hair splitting rulings to undernmine human rights in general.

  • rate this

    Comment number 508.

    The only vote concerning prisoners I want to see is for a referendum on the re-introduction of the death penalty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    494 Dave Smith..

    The court determined that under the Charter a convicted person forfeits their right to Liberty , and voting is a right not a privilege..they added a caveat that governments can impose of sentence, gravity of sentence etc..

    Which is more than likely to happen..

    Hirst brought the case under the Charter`s Right to ` free elections `.. kinda %

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    When someone commits a crime against society they should forfeit the right to be treated better than deserving law abiding citizens. No vote - no perks such as free satellite TV etc. They can EARN extras that they would pay the going rate for by working - at the minimum national wage. No more mollycoddling people who have deliberately broken the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 505.

    Let them vote then lose the ballot boxes

  • rate this

    Comment number 504.

    #496: Thank you for providing the deep philosophical insight that unites all UKIP supporters :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    I understand cameron is in a tricky position on this.....he has to deal with a piece of crap from 7 years ago which isnt his fault......but if its a case of letting them vote or pay compensation ..let them vote half probobly cant write x anyway.


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