In today’s society we fight for equality and find It difficult when understanding countries with inequalities, so why in Scotland are we content to disenfranchise prisoners with a blanket ban on their voting rights, where a writer said that the UK “has hardly emerged from the Jurassic period” (Clements;Birtwistle, 2011). To this day MPs in parliament still debate about the subject in massive depth on whether prisoners in Scotland should receive the right to vote or not. The legislation in the UK bans all prisoners that are serving custodial sentences from voting in elections to the UK parliaments and local governments, which is stated under section 3 in the representation of People Act 1983, so why is this topic of such high interest now?(Sander, 2011)(The Scottish Parliament Equalities and Human Rights Committee, 2018)
The debate on this issue really heightened on 6 October 2005 when the European Court of Human Rights (ECoHR) which ruled that the UK blanket ban breached Article 3 of European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) that declares ‘states to hold free elections under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people’. (The Scottish Parliament Equalities and Human Rights Committee, 2018). At this time Lord Firkin reinforced that this was the UK position of successive Governments and there was a reluctance to change, appealing the judgement. (BBC, 2011). This was futile and the ruling upheld by the Supreme Court.
Despite the UK being in the minority of European Convention members, who do allow the prisoner vote at varying degrees, in 2017 they eventually only proposed limited change to the 1983 Act to comply with the ECoHR ruling, adding those on temporary licence (parole) to remand prisoners, after significant pressure from EcHR who have now indicated this is an adequate response. (The Scottish Parliament Equalities and Human Rights Committee, 2018)However the devolved parliaments in UK were keen to consider change but had no power to do so as the legislation was reserved to Westminster, until recently when for Scotland this change was outlined within Section 3 of Scotland Act 2016, which included provisions giving Scottish Parliament powers over voting in local and Scottish Parliament elections. Thus, as of 18 May 2017, The Scottish Parliament can now legislate on prisoner voting for these elections. (The Scottish Parliament Equalities and Human Rights Committee, 2018)
The full impact of the EcHR ruling has still to be realised but the debates that have been raging since 2005, albeit as highlighted in 2011 in Emine Sanners debate in the Guardian (Saner, 2011), the arguments for and against have barely changed since 2005 to the present date, with matters like prisoner electoral residence, methods of voting and what sentences should be applicable. It is no wonder that with the legal, political, social and moral aspects to the debate that it has not been resolved in the past 13 years.
That said, there is now growing momentum, particularly in the devolved parliaments with the Welsh Parliament conducting a consultation on the issue in 2017. For us in Scotland Patrick Harvie, MSP, Green party wrote to Scottish Parliament on 15 June 2017 requesting that we include consideration of prisoner voting as part of our work programme that has led to the Parliament taking evidence through the Equalities and HR committee. Mr. Harvie stated we have “greater devolved responsibility for the democratic process”. He believed that alternatives to the blanket ban must be actively considered if further legal challenges were to be avoided, referring to EcHR. (The Scottish Parliament Equalities and Human Rights Committee, 2018)
This is backed up by further legal debate and comment from Bishop Selby for HM Prisons, indicating the ban is contrary to Rehabilitation of Offenders and with no evidence that it prevents crime and it does no more than make prisoners a ‘non-person’.
Considering the prisoners, Paul Tidball of the Prison Governors Association describes the ban as “out of step in a modern prison service and runs counter to resettlement work” (Clements;Birtwistle, 2011), which is ultimately in line with HIRST and the 1015 prisoners who challenged the ban that was upheld by the ECHR (BBC, 2011).
Indeed the prisoner who commented “The ban on prisoners voting is left over from the Victorian system of pointless punishment and good form of rehabilitation” (Ref 4) enforces the earlier comments that the UK are still in the Jurassic period. Where fundamentally prisoners felt less than human, with a lack of dignity, self-pride and believed the ban was bad for their reintegration into communities. (BBC, 2011)
Although there is a drive for change the Government comment in 2005 that the ban was in line successive Governments has really not altered, with the Attorney General describing that giving prisoners the vote makes a mockery of Justice if murder/rape gets vote.( BBC, 2011) Even the Prime Minister of the time David Cameron and fellow Conservatives were reported to be abhorred at the thought of change but conceded change was required, that I believe was more about negative impact on tory vote and resistance to ECHR that could lead to financial pay-out’s in tens of millions, which with the 2015 decision that there would be no financial compensation has indeed slowed the process.
As years passed and the EcHR reinforced their position, MP’s remained resolute believing it was degrades the vote and democracy, with David Davis MP reiterating that ‘If you break the law’ you should not ‘be allowed to make the law’ believing any change was emphasising the low esteem the vote has (Clements;Birtwistle, 2011).
When looking at the legislation there is no real legal reason that any of the parliaments in Britain cannot make the change and although devolved parliaments appear keen to do so, it forms part of a political tool within the BREXIT debate, with Brian Andrew Defty, asking who runs our nation and Reason 2 citing others make our laws and we need to take back control (Defty, 2016). It is this false information that shows the political falseness