Voting Rights for Prisoners in the UK

Prison Info

In the United Kingdom, voting rights for prisoners is an issue that sparks a lot of debate. Here, we provide a comprehensive guide to help you understand the complexities surrounding it.

Under current UK law, most incarcerated individuals are prohibited from voting in local, national, or European elections. This is rooted in the Forfeiture Act of 1870, which, although mostly repealed, maintains the ‘civic death’ principle that denies individuals of particular rights – voting included – after committing crimes.

The Ban on Prisoner Voting

Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act (1983) denies the right to vote for convicted persons during their period of detention. The act also doesn’t prohibit voting for detainees on remand, civil prisoners, or people imprisoned for contempt of court. Furthermore, prisoners released on license may vote.

European Challenge to the UK Ban

In 2005, the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner voting was challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, in the case of Hirst v the United Kingdom. The court ruled that the UK’s voting ban was a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No 1 (right to free elections) of the European Convention on Human Rights, leading to criticism of the UK government for their non-compliance.

The UK’s Response

The UK Government has maintained its position against ensuring all prisoners the right to vote, contravening the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. However, it has made efforts to refine elements of the law. In 2017, new guidelines were issued to allow a select number of prisoners access to voting rights if granted temporary licence and freedom to return to their communities.

The Scottish Approach

Scotland, as part of the UK, is looking at progressive prisoner voting laws. The Scottish government proposed draft legislation in 2018 to grant voting rights to prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less.

  1. The Arguments For Prisoner Voting
  2. Advocates for prisoner voting rights argue that voting is a fundamental human right, and prisoners, despite their crimes, should not be excluded from society entirely. They believe it could aid prisoners’ rehabilitation, helping them feel invested in society, leading to lower re-offending rates.

  3. The Arguments Against Prisoner Voting
  4. Critics believe that committing a crime severe enough to warrant imprisonment means forfeiting certain rights, including voting. They maintain that being denied to vote is part of their punishment and might serve as a deterrent to criminal behaviour.

As seen, the debate surrounding prisoner voting rights in the UK remains contentious and ongoing. Despite European Court objections and changes initiated in Scotland, the majority of prisoners in the UK are currently unable to vote. This issue isn’t going away and continues to play a significant role in discussions about democracy, human rights, and criminal justice in the UK.

Stay informed by visiting this page regularly for updates on voting rights for UK prisoners.

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