By Sophie Clark
The government reportedly plan to allow prisoners to vote, provided they are serving a sentence less than a year and have been granted day release. The European Court declared it unlawful to do so just twelve years ago. David Lidington in The Sunday Times said that “No one will be allowed to register to vote if they are still behind bars” and it has been stressed that there will be strict limitations enforced if the ban is to be lifted. It’s unsurprising that the UK government have gone against the European Court’s ruling, but what is surprising is that when proposed legalisation to restrict the voting ban was raised in 2011, MPs voted 234 to 22 in favour of parliament deciding on such an issue. David Cameron even said that the idea of prisoners voting made him “physically sick”, capturing the essence of how passionately many people feel on the subject.
The reported plan to scrap the blanket ban does specify that people who have committed serious crimes, such as rape and murder, would still be banned from voting, as commented upon by David Lidington. If your sentence is less than a year, you would assume that the crime/crimes committed by the individual lack severity, yet there have been cases where people who have committed serious offences, like sexual assault, have been imprisoned for less than a year and even granted bail. Jane Clough’s ex-partner, Jonathan Vass, was charged with nine counts of rape and four assaults, three of them being sexual assaults, and yet was still granted bail in 2009. Whilst out on bail, Vass brutally murdered Jane. It’s terrifying cases like this that evoke worry and fear over the proposition of lifting the blanket ban. It can be argued that the justice system is flawed, and as such people who are genuine risks to society could be granted the power to vote.
On the other hand, it is naive to claim that all prisoners are malicious and dangerous to society. There are lots of reasons that people commit crimes; sometimes people cannot get by financially, are at risk of becoming homeless or even going hungry. They may not have any other option but shoplift or burgle a house. I think that a more sympathetic outlook on people like this would not go amiss, and lifting the ban could be a good place to start. Prisoners’ rights are a largely debated subject with opinions differing on things as trivial as what prisoners should be allowed to eat. The European convention on human rights guarantees the right to free and fair elections, yet what rights should you be entitled to, if you have consciously broken the law? Technically you are still a human once you’ve been imprisoned and as a result you are still entitled to your human rights. However, the entire concept of being imprisoned defies the human right which entitles you to “be free”.