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Prisoner votes uses same law as Gibraltar votes

November 3rd, 2010 Posted in EU Politics by

The basis of the current debate on votes for prisoners is the Article 3 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, and a case bought by a former convict, John Hirst, arguing the UK’s blanket ban was in breach.

“The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature. “

In 2005 he won. Or rather the court decided the ban was “disproportionate”, upheld on appeal. Meaning the onus was on the UK to demonstrate why for example shoplifters and those in prison for a day should not vote, if that day happens to coincide with an election. The deprivation of liberty should be proportionate to the crime, argues the court.

The expected compromise is that UK law will be adapted, in line with most other European countries, to raise the bar, perhaps to sentences of four years or more. The line from gloating idiot Hirst, that “murderers, rapists, and paedophiles” will get the vote, is then unlikely to be correct. The Liberal Democrat position is that removal of the vote should clearly be a part of the sentence, which is sensible. Keeping prisoners registered to vote in their home rather than prison constituencies would avoid prisons influencing marginal seats, and the miserable politics of canvassing votes you’d rather not have.

It should be noted though that some prisoners, those for example guilty of civil offences such as non-payment of fines can already vote.

It should also be noted by the Right, that the same article of the Convention was used by the Gibraltarians and Conservative Lord Bethell in 1999 to secure their voting rights in European elections, against the wishes of Spain and the then Labour government. The Liberal Democrats in the Lords shamefully supported Labour trying to stop this happening, on the ludicrous grounds that it might “complicate rather than help… relations with Spain”.

Our Party, or rather a part of it, then rather inconsistently seems to support universal human rights for those deprived of their liberty for some criminal offences, but not for law abiding residents of an overseas territory occasionally deprived of their liberties by an aggressive neighbour.

Conservatives conversely seem perfectly content to use the convention when it suits. Labour believe passionately in rights, unless it means bad headlines, at which point they are prepared to risk paying large amounts of compensation to prisoners from the national Treasury.

Dodgy principles and politics all round.

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