» Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Prisoners’ Voting Rights

Asked the Prime Minister’s reaction to an ECHR ruling today that murderers held in prison should be allowed to vote in elections, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that we would consider the detail of today’s judgement. However, it had been the view of successive Governments that prisoners convicted of a crime serious enough to warrant imprisonment had lost the moral authority to vote. That remained our position. Asked to explain why prisoners had lost the moral authority to vote, the PMOS said that they had carried out criminal activities which had been judged to be sufficiently serious by a court to warrant imprisonment. That judgment related to how society viewed these matters. Asked if the Government would appeal against the decision, the PMOS said that we would take time to consider the detail of the judgment before announcing what we were going to do.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news


  1. Here’s a Guardian piece on this story:
    <a href="http://politics.guardian.co.uk/homeaffairs/story/0,11026,1182356,00.html">http://politics.guardian.co.uk/homeaffairs/story/0,11026,1182356,00.html</a&gt;
    and the same from the Telegraph:
    <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/03/31/npris31.xml&sSheet=/news/2004/03/31/ixhome.html">http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/03/31/npris31.xml&sSheet=/news/2004/03/31/ixhome.html</a&gt;

    I don’t really understand this. The ruling is based on ‘article three of protocol one to the European convention on human rights, which guarantees "free elections … under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature".’ According to the Telegraph piece, it’s up to an individual state’s legislature to decide which categories of prisoners can vote, but, "The court would observe that there is no evidence that the legislature in the United Kingdom has ever sought to weigh the competing interests or to assess the proportionality of the ban as it affects convicted prisoners" — despite the fact that the ban is in the Representation of the People Act, 1983, and was therefore presumably considered by Parliament at that time. What am I missing?

    (As an aside, the plaintiff in this case, John Hirst, wants prisoners to have the vote in order to make prison welfare a live issue in Parliament. He argues that in constituencies which contain prisons, a few thousand prisoners could swing an election. But I believe that those categories of prisoners who can presently vote get to do so in their home constituency, rather than the constituency in which they are incarcerated. I can see no reason that Hirst’s victory in court would change this policy, and the scattered effect of — he says — 70,000 additional voters is unlikely to have much effect.)

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 3 Apr 2004 on 10:30 pm | Link
  2. A few years ago I was working for an MP who happened to have an old crumbling notorious Victorian jail in his constituency. It was a constant source of difficulty because whenever he mentioned problems at the jail, the local population might begin to think "he’s more concerned about prisoners than law-abiding locals". It would be totally wrong to give prisoners a vote where they are as it would just encourage this sort of thing. I hope some way can be found of preventing people in jail voting.

    Comment by David Boothroyd — 6 Apr 2004 on 1:21 pm | Link
  3. (You remind me of the story of the MP who goes to give a speech at the local prison and starts off with the words "It’s good to see so many of you here today…".)

    I appreciate the point about denying convicts a vote on moral grounds, but there is a case to be made for giving prison welfare issues greater prominence in Parliament, and giving prisoners a vote might have that effect. Are there sensible alternatives?

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 6 Apr 2004 on 2:30 pm | Link
  4. Given that prisoners wouldn’t vote in the area they are in, exactly what would they be voting for/on?

    It seems to me that it is one issue where it has to be a black and white issue, they either can vote, or they can’t. But the issue doesn’t really divide up so easy, not being allowed to vote removes them of all democratic priveledges, which seems too harsh, and allowing them to vote seems to give them too many. Maybe they could vote invidiually, then tally the whole lot for the prison, and then half it. Or is that a really silly idea?

    Comment by Lodjer — 6 Apr 2004 on 3:57 pm | Link
  5. i.e., prisoners get half a vote, or whatever? It’s not an obviously silly idea (though it would offend some people). It also has the nice property that you can compromise by changing a half to a quarter or two thirds or whatever.

    As another slightly mad possibility, there could be prison constituencies, like the old university constituencies. Have (say) two MPs for the whole prisons system. Campaigning would be a bit of a nightmare, though.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 6 Apr 2004 on 4:14 pm | Link
  6. Certainly run the risk of more than just getting an egg thrown at you…

    Again it has the advantage of adjustable "weight". Could be very interesting to see if there are any specific trends in the voting.

    There may be an issue of intimidation however, either by guards or inmates.

    Comment by Lodjer — 6 Apr 2004 on 4:26 pm | Link
  7. UNLOCK, the national association of ex-offenders, launched the campaign to win the right to vote for prisoners on 1st March. As Campaign Manager, I left the Home Office to work on the project because I believe it is such a crucial issue.

    In terms of votes, the effect on election outcomes is very minimal. I’m sure the Government’s majority is safe for the moment.

    However, voting rights would make a huge difference to the prison population. It would make ministers much more accountable for what goes on in prisons – a service that lurches silently and relentlessly from one crisis to another.

    There are 2 suicides a week in prison, high rates of self-harm and drug use, unskilled staff and patchy rehabilitation. If these statistics of failure were reported in any other public service, there would be an outcry. But, politicians will find the motivation to change the status quo when no votes are at stake.

    Issues only count when votes count on it.

    Think of voting rights as performance related pay for the Prison’s Minister. I think you would find things change for the better.

    Comment by Nick O'Shea — 13 Apr 2004 on 11:05 am | Link
  8. The right to vote is exactly that – a right. It is not for any one man to deny another man a basic human right – like life, air, food, his existence. We have moved on from the days of capital punishment. Taking one life can never repair the damage of a life lost. Do we want retribution and revenge or rehabilitation and resettlement?

    When a man commits a crime, he potentially loses his right to his freedom. Full stop! In a civilised society, he must lose nothing more.

    If the argument is that the votes of 69,000 inmates – around 6,000 would be unable to vote due to their age or infirmity – would hardly sway the shape of a future government, why are they resistant to change? What have they got to lose ….. other than the votes of The Daily Mail-icious reader?

    Will this be yet another humiliating defeat for the government when they are finally dragged, kicking and screaming, into the Court of Human Rights? Let’s hope that common sense prevails before that happens.

    Comment by Ian Ross — 9 May 2004 on 7:00 pm | Link
  9. That’s a strange comment.

    In any democracy, the right to vote is a personal right, as a member of the society; that translates to a *responsibility* to vote. The word "right" is not a right as in "priviledge.

    You do not have the priviledge of voting. You have the responsibility of voting. You have an innate right, as a member of this society, and that infers a difficulty of removal, and a responsibility for use – much like Americans’ rights of life, liberty, and happiness, enshrined in their Bill of Rights in the ten first articles of the Constituion, grant them inalienable rights.

    Those right can be taken away by the state, under due process, in the same way your rights to liberty can. I have to honestly say that I don’t see difficulty with that; your right to vote becomes replaced by your right to due process and is subsumed. So long as justice is done in a fair and balanced manner, then those rights – your right to liberty, and your right to take part in society as a free man – are replaced by your rights to a fair and just trial and due process.

    Comment by Gregory Lightyear — 9 May 2004 on 8:39 pm | Link
  10. Now, now, "gay" and "prison" are two words you rarely hear uttered in the same sentence in proper conversation. It’s like mentioning "drop" and "soap" – conversational seppuku.

    Comment by Gregory Block — 26 May 2004 on 1:01 am | Link
  11. Darn. I hate it when abusive comments disappear from under your nose. 🙂

    Comment by Gregory Block — 26 May 2004 on 1:02 am | Link
  12. I used to work for PM Trudeau and it was a very contraversial issue but was agreed that the senate and House of commons would try to agree on something fair to the people of the prisons and get a chance to vote after a certain amount of years and deppending on the level of judgement on the crime

    Comment by Joe Big McMac — 2 Dec 2004 on 11:40 pm | Link
  13. As one of the campaigners at Unlock to enfranchise serving prisoners, I stand by the arguments presented in our campaign paper at http://www.unlockprison.org.uk.

    However, leaving aside the arguments for or against, what really has amazed me is that despite the unanimous ruling of the judges at the ECHR, which held that our Government is in breach of human rights, Tony Blair has, quite cynically (not to say desperately), appealed against the decision to the Grand Jury (and few people that I know of have even heard of this body). So much then for respecting human rights!

    The ECHR reached its decision after much deliberation and consideration of the arguments put forward by other States when enfranchising their own prisoners (notably, in Canada). Voting by sentenced prisoners works successfully in many countries around the world, inclusing South Africa, Canada, Australia & New Zealand. Almost all of our European neighbours have partial or no restrictions on voting \x96 without detrimental social effects. The UK is one of only nine Council of Europe countries to automatically disenfranchise sentenced prisoners, the others being: Armenia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxembourg, Romania and Russia.

    A strange choice of bed-fellows Mr Blair!

    Comment by Julie Wright — 11 Mar 2005 on 12:32 pm | Link
  14. If we ever want to fix the problems in society that are causing breaches of the law and prisoners to become prisoners in the first place, we need the feedback of those who currently face these substantial problems with society. Not to mention that with dismal and diminishing rehabilitation/prison conditions, there is really no hope of any true rehabilitation occurring. Not only do we displace criminals from society during the process of their punishment, by removing also their right to contribute to society and their hope of rehabilitation we truly are casting them off forever. How can they hope to be "fit" for society ever again? Is a crime commited a life lost? Sound familiar? (Don’t judge me too harshly, I’m not incredibly politically educated on the subject, just commenting)

    Comment by Emily Beck — 21 Mar 2006 on 4:04 am | Link
  15. I fucking am so pissed with these fucking prisoners. They fuck up the votes!

    Comment by Connor — 30 Oct 2008 on 5:42 pm | Link

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Post a public comment

(You must give an email address, but it will not be displayed to the public.)
(You may give your website, and it will be displayed to the public.)


This is not a way of contacting the Prime Minister. If you would like to contact the Prime Minister, go to the 10 Downing Street official site.

Privacy note: Shortly after posting, your name and comment will be displayed on the site. This means that people searching for your name on the Internet will be able to find and read your comment.

Downing Street Says...

The unofficial site which lets you comment on the UK Prime Minister's official briefings. About us...


March 2004
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
« Feb   Apr »

Supported by


Disruptive Proactivity

Recent Briefings



Syndicate (RSS/XML)



Contact Sam Smith.

This site is powered by WordPress. Theme by Jag Singh