Q6. The ECJ has ruled that prisoners should not be denied the right to vote in political elections. Discuss.
In March 2004, John Hirst, a convicted killer, successfully took his case against the United Kingdom to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR in Strasbourg. (Hirst v The United Kingdom 2004). He claimed there was an infringement upon his human rights which was inconsistent with protocol 1 article 3 of the ECHR. The court ruled unanimously that his human rights had been violated. On April 11th 2011 the court ordered the UK to change the legislation on allowing prisoners to vote, with a time scale of six months to implement legislative proposals. Protocol 1, article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights maintains the right to free election. It states that “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”. The UK signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights and this was implemented into UK Law as part of the Human Rights Act in October 2000; however, the Human Rights Act 2000 does declare that “Some qualifications may be imposed on those that are eligible to vote”. The UK, at present, administers a blanket ban on convicted prisoner’s ability to vote. Those currently on remand, imprisoned for contempt of court or default are only allowed to vote, which is unlawful contrary to the ECHR ruling. The ban on prisoners voting dates back 140 years with the Forfeiture Act 1870, enforcing a “civic death” on individuals who break the law. This was upheld in the Representation of the People Act 1983. This has evoked enormous controversy legally, politically and morally. Should convicted prisoners really have a say in how society is run? Juliet Lyon, director of the prison reform trust and secretary-general of the penal reform international, argues that prisoners should have the right to vote. That disenfranchising a large proportion of the population (approximately 70,000) is morally and legally wrong. It is a clear breach of a person’s right and that “voting should be seen as a right and a positive civic duty, not as a privilege” (Sunday times March 2010). Denying prisoners the right to vote inhibits the rehabilitation process. When people are sent to prison they lose their independence, not their human rights. Excluding prisoners from taking part in important decisions such as the governing of society, isolates a considerable number of people and encourages them to feel like non-citizens. How are prisoners meant to reintegrate into society if they don’t feel part of it? The former President of the Prison Governors Association, Paul Tidball, agrees and adds that the ban “is out of step in a modern prison service and runs counter to resettlement work, which aims to ensure that prisoners lead a responsible, law abiding life on release” (UNLOCK February 2010). The UK is in the minority of the EU countries that automatically disenfranchise prisoners upon incarceration. There are only four other countries in the EU that automatically ban prisoners from voting, which just reinforces how out of date the ruling is and that it just does not fit in today’s current society. For prisoners to be given the vote, to stand up and be counted for as a citizen, will give them a sense of civic duty and responsibility, to feel less marginalised, something that is essential to resettling back into society. Statistics show that 29% of the British national population in prison are from black and ethnic minority communities. The fact that black and ethnic minority groups only make up 9% of the overall population shows that they are disproportionately disadvantaged than the white population. Black and ethnic minority people are considerably more likely to be denied the vote. Lord Hurd of Westwell, former Home Secretary believes that by “enfranchising prisoners would...
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