The ‘illegality’ of not enfranchising prisoners

The European Court of Human Rights has once again made a nuisance of itself, but this time, with serious political consequence. The ECHR has decided that prisoners deserve the vote. Parliament now has presented a bill that gives MP’s the option to vote to either enforce the blanket ban, to give votes to those who are serving less than six months, or to give the vote to those who are serving less than four years. Campaigners have stated this is bill is contrary to what the ECHR has ruled. It does not give the option to enfranchise all prisoners.

The moral case for prisoners being refused the vote is quite clear. If an individual decides to break the law, in a manner that is serious enough to be placed in prison, they should forfeit their vote along with their liberty. Critics of the bill will argue that it is not for EU Member States to pick and choose which human rights its citizens should be given. That just because a human becomes a criminal, he is human nonetheless, and should be afforded the same rights as other human beings. There is also the argument that to not give prisoners the vote dehumanises them, and prevents the progress of rehabilitation. This is quite true. However, putting criminals in prison is also quite a large barrier in the progress of rehabilitation. Prison is also designed to be unpleasant, without resorting to degrading or harmful treatment. A balance needs to be struck between punishment and rehabilitation. Removing certain rights are justified when it comes to punishing offenders for their crimes.

Parliaments intention is apparent. Given the choice, they will uphold the current ban on votes for prisoners. In a speech yesterday, Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary announced that parliament remains sovereign, and has the authority to implement the ruling in its own way. Though disregarding the ruling and upholding the ban may have an interesting consequence. It will ultimately set a precedent that Parliament can decide which rulings to consider. That despite being a Member State, it can hold strong against decisions it firmly disagrees with. This is the authority we need. We deserve to have leaders and a Government that will consider the interests of its people first, and the decisions of the EU second.

What may be ‘illegal’ in the eyes of EU law is extremely unlikely to have repercussions that damage the relationship between the UK and other Member States. Can we really see the United Kingdom being tried in at the ECHR court for the denial of human rights by not giving prisoners the vote? This would be absurd. Not implementing this decision would have a purely political impact. The political damage will not even compare to the societal damage if we are to give prisoners the vote. Mass compensation would be given; political parties would canvass in prisons, promising to serve the interests of prisons. Parties may decide to establish themselves in areas of large prisons hoping to win seats to serve their interests in Parliament. All for what purpose? So those convicted of crimes serious enough to warrant protection from the public, or who have reoffended enough times to be imprisoned can be given rights which they no longer deserve. That is not justice.

Where will the faith of the public lie if we are to think our Government is too weak to say no to the ECHR on an issue it universally disagrees with. Parliament should stand up the ECHR, represent the people who elected it, and demonstrate that it will not do whatever it is told.


  1. Absolutely right. There is some very unattractive jurisprudence coming from Strasbourg on property rights and Article 8 (private life) saying that if a private property owner wishes to evict someone they must not only show the person’s occupation is unlawful but that it would be “proportionate” to evict them. Bizarre – if the occupation of property is unlawful that is the end of the matter if we really believe in property rights! Parliament should have the right to refuse to enforce these un-libertarian trends.

  2. The vote is a CIVIL right, not a HUMAN right. It is odd that the EU/ECHR wants criminals to vote, but law-abiding citizens must only be allowed to vote in specific elections which the EU deigns to permit- i.e. for politicians who don’t make our laws but must apply them.
    For a start, I don’t recall voting for Barreness Plugly to represent the UK in Foreign Affairs!


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