12 Jul 2012

Should voting be a removable right?

In May 2012, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) gave the UK six months to outline proposed reforms that aim to solve the issue of votes for prisoners. It has been a source of debate for this year: which voters, if any, should be allowed to vote? MPs have overwhelming rejected the idea of prisoners voting before, but the government is still under pressure to give inmates what some call an immovable, basic human right.

This predicament has far-reaching consequences, way beyond whether prisoners get the vote or not. It may have repercussions throughout Europe, and at home, it threatens both Parliament's sovereignty and the coalition's stability. The coalition government will hope to find a compromise that will please the Lib Dems, who will lean towards giving the prisoners the right, as well as Tory MPs, many of which will be ideologically opposed to such a measure, aiming to preserve the current blanket ban. Conservative MP Dominic Raab said that the European Court and the UK Parliament may have a "major constitutional clash" over the issue; if Parliament defeated the proposal, a complex legal process would ensue.

Personally, my opinion sits well with that of Jonathan Aitken's:

I think society has the right to say that when you commit a crime serious enough to be sent to prison, you lose your freedom, and with that you lose some of your privileges, of which voting is one.
However, a lot of debate comes into play around the word 'privilege.' Is the vote a privilege? Many would describe it as a right; a fundamental human right allowing us to voice our opinion in a democracy. The liberally minded would argue that it is an important role of a socially responsible society: prison aims to reintegrate offenders into society, and therefore we should allow them the vote so that they can see themselves as citizens. Also, giving prisoners the vote would avert a rather messy legal affair with the European Court, further isolating the UK from the EU.

I, however, reserve the right of our own Parliament making and enforcing our own laws. MPs spoke for the people when, in February 2011, the all-party 212-majority resolved that the issue of votes for prisoners should be decided by the UK Parliament alone, not the ECHR. The prison population currently stands at 86,000; adding these to the electoral register could have massive repercussions.

These people should not be allowed the vote. When offending, many would have taken away someone else's right, be it life, liberty or property. Therefore, they should lose some rights when they are 'doing time' for their crime. Of course, the aim of prison is to rehabilitate many back into society, but whilst they are in prison, they should not vote. In offending, they have broken their contract with society, and should not have a say in running it.

There may be a compromise, as previously stated, to appease both sides of the Coalition. I could see the advantage of letting some prisoners vote. If someone was serving a sentence of under a year, for a minor traffic offence, for example, they could easily end up missing an election and therefore end up living under a government or representative for several years in which they had no say. There are clear benefits of prisoners serving shorter sentences retaining the vote and participation in politics.

Currently, only prisoners on remand are allowed to vote. In my opinion, it should remain that way. Most prisoners, when offending, take another's life, liberty or property, and so therefore they should in turn lose certain rights whilst they spend time in prison to be punished and rehabilitated for society.


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