Monday, 28 May 2012

Voting Rights for Prisoners

Last week, on 22 May, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a blanket ban on voting rights covering the whole prison population represents a breach of Human Rights setting the European Court at odds with the House of Commons. In 2010 the House of Commons voted through a motion in support of retaining a blanket ban in the UK. The current media headlines are around the David Cameron’s assertion that this is for Governments to decide and, in his words, not a matter for “a foreign court”.

In 2007 the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Church responded to a consultation by the then Department of Constitutional Affairs. The submission was in part motivated by the involvement of churches and chaplains in prisons, and our interest and work in restorative justice. In this consultation response we recognised that our denominations have not taken a formal position on voting rights for prisoners in our central conferences/assemblies. However we argued that voting rights should only be held from prisoners in exceptional circumstances. We suggested that the right to vote was a fundamental human right rather than a privilege (as was suggested by the foreword to the consultation document) and should not be lightly withdrawn from any citizen.

The European Court of Human Rights requires a response from Her Majesty’s Government within six months. This debate may receive further air time over the summer. Do offer us your thoughts ...