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Jeff King: Should prisoners have the right to vote?

I think they should, and want to explain why in a way that addresses the issue recently faced by the courts and by Parliament.  The prisoner voting saga culminated in the Hirst v UK (No.2) [2005] ECHR 681 case before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, and the nearly five hour debate on the floor of the House of Commons which ended with a 234-22 vote in favour of a resolution that “supports the current situation in which no prisoner is able to vote except those imprisoned for contempt, default or on remand.”: House of Commons Debates, 10 February 2011, Vol 523, No.116, 493-586.  The saga, for Parliament, represented two distinct issues: whether the Strasbourg Court was exceeding its competency; and whether prisoners ought, as a moral and human rights matter, to have the right to vote.  This blog entry is concerned only with the second of these questions, but as it turns out, the status of the right to vote as a human right is highly relevant to the resolution of this moral issue.

The debate in the Commons was supposed to address that moral question in order to satisfy the finding in Hirst that the impugned 1983 law, which carried forth without debate a policy adopted in 1870, could not be justified as being necessary in a democratic society given that Parliament had not debated the issue in light of modern day penal policy: Hirst v UK, [79]; but see Joint Dissenting Opinion of Justice Wildhaber et. al., [7].  However, the Commons was almost entirely preoccupied with the question of whether Strasbourg had exceeded its authority or was staffed with incompetent judges.  Indeed, the matter swung so much that way, that the Attorney General was forced to remind the House of the point of the debate, eliciting the following hilarious exchange:

  • The Attorney General (Mr. D Grieve): ‘Members might also wish to focus on why they consider the current ban, or some variant of it, to be reasonable and proportionate in our own national context. It was the absence of debate of that issue that appeared to make the Court take the view that our ban was indiscriminate.’ (HC Debate, 513)
  • Chris Bryant (Lab): ‘Really?’ (513)
  • Ben Gumner (Con): ‘I am slightly worried by what my right hon. and learned friend said earlier about the purpose of this debate.’ (515)
  • David Davidson (Con): ‘Does the AG accept that, in being a lawyer, he has the problem of over-complicating matters? [Laughter.[sic]] Is not the basic issue whether we in this country should decide our line on whether prisoners should be able to vote – or should it be decided by somebody else?’ (517)

So much for reasonable disagreement about the scope of the right to vote.  In fact, as Liora Lazarus has noted on this blog in her response to Graham Gee, it was almost impossible to find any discussion which acknowledged the existence of the right and tried to delineate its scope. Only a few could arguably have been said to address the issue that way: see Long (HC Debates, 532-33); Qureshi (535-36); Corbyn (538-39). In fairness, a few MPs did address the moral issue moderately squarely, and at times the debate was very impressive on all sides of the issue.  The most frequent argument against prisoner voting is that such criminals had broken the social contract: HC Debate, 527, 544, 563. One can be tempted here to get philosophically pedantic, and claim that no one actually signed any social contract, and that a ‘hypothetical contract is not simply a pale form of an actual contract; it is no contract at all.’ (Dworkin: Taking Rights Seriously (1977: 17-18).  But what the MPs surely meant is that community life entails obligations of reciprocity, one in which the benefits of the state system and mutual forbearance come with the burdens of obedience to the rules adopted fairly by the community.  One can at once see the allure and limitations of this argument. It is among the better reasons for why we normally obey community rules (though not always, see Raz, The Authority of Law  (1979: Ch.12).  But it’s less convincing to those who have had poor life chances, and received a slim share of the alleged benefits of forbearance.  The link between inequality and incarceration is shocking: Wilkinson and Pickett, The Spirit Level (2010: ch.11).  And let it not be forgotten that due to exactly this type of reasoning, which essentially justifies depriving voting for life, one in eight African-American men is ineligible to vote in America: Cole, ‘Can our shameful prisons be reformed?’, NY Rev Books, 19 Nov 2009, §4.  The fact that Britain tailors the disenfranchisement to the prison term is less cruel, but it borrows the same reasoning.

But I want to suggest that the argument is misguided for another reason. It implicitly fails to recognise a very relevant dimension of the issue, namely that the right to vote is a fundamental human right. It is not a privilege, like a driving license or access to the gym on weeknights.  The denial of this claim, including immediately by the two sponsors of the resolution, was a veritable leitmotif of the debate:

  • Jack Straw: ‘the issue before us today – is by no stretch of the imagination a breach of fundamental human rights. Rather it is a matter of penal policy…’  (HC Debates, 502; see also 493).
  • David Davis: ‘[T]here is an important point about not confusing the rights that are properly held by everybody who is a British citizen…with those much more circumscribed rights that are given to prisoners.’ ): (493).
  • Many others: 537, 539, 542, 545, 548, 553, 556, 557, 577 (debate on that point), 578.

But the right to vote is a human right.  Participation in self-government is the most basic expression of the principle of equality, a recognition that each person has basic, equal and presumptively irrevocable civic status in the society.  So the many MPs who denied that idea are wrong as a matter of law, and of morality: see in addition to Art.3, AP.1 of the ECHR, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 25(b); Waldron, Law and Disagreement (1999: Ch.11), and cf. Griffin, On Human Rights (2008: ch.15, but note 254-255).  (Some parliamentarians became exercised over the Court’s deriving a right to vote from the duty to hold periodic elections in Art.3, AP1 (see Hirst v UK, [56]-[62]) but that is hardly an interpretive stretch by comparison to equality rights for transsexuals or gays in the military).  The fact that it is a human right means it is among the most basic conditions for human dignity, autonomy, and citizenship.  One does not forfeit a fundamental human right as the default penalty for non-compliance with law.

So what does that mean then? I would say this: it is of the essence of basic human rights that they are qualified or limited, if at all, only for a legitimate or compelling state interest achieved by proportionate means (i.e. are necessary and strike a fair balance). I think this admittedly legalistic proportionality principle neatly encapsulates the presumptive or peremptory force, or urgency, we attach to rights in the realm of moral practical reasoning as well.  Limitations of those types of interests require special justification.

We recognise this principle in the human rights law relating to prisoners, who continue to enjoy nearly all their other human rights while in prison, to the extent that they are exercised compatibly with the basic regimen of prison life: Hirst v UK, [69].  But don’t we take away the prisoner’s right to liberty?  How can one say that this can go but the right to vote must stay?  This is believed to be the ace in the back pocket of those opposing prisoner voting.  It is a difficult issue, but the analogy breaks down upon close examination.

In Hirst, the UK offered three legitimate state aims: (1) it would punish crime; (2) it would prevent crime; and (3) it would enhance civic responsibility and promote respect for the rule of law: Hirst v UK, [50], [74]-[75]. Consider these aims and the deprivation of liberty.  As to punishment, it is notable that we do not incarcerate all offenders.  Typically it is only the more serious and violent ones.  In these cases, it is plausible to say that incarceration is necessary to punish, because it may well be the only acceptable social response that constitutes a grave or real sanction for the offender in the relevant circumstances.  Second, imprisonment at least arguably constitutes a deterrent, and, more importantly, it takes serious criminals off the streets or out of bank boardrooms where, if left, they would be liable to continue harming the public.  Third, the rehabilitation/civic responsibility function of prisons is sharply contested. But there is at least a prima facie argument that without rattling the jailhouse keys, it would be hard to induce offenders to take up activities designed to facilitate their constructive re-entry into civil society, including especially the conditions for release on license (parole).

Disenfranchisement cuts a poor figure next to the deprivation of liberty, at least when these aims are contemplated.  Taking them in reverse order, the idea that denial of the vote enhances civic responsibility is ludicrous.  It is the very negation of their civic capacity, a message of mandatory disengagement, and of revoked social status: see HD Debates, 576-577 (Lorely Burt MP (LibDem), a former prison governor); see also 536 (Qureshi (Lab)), 538-39 (Corbyn (Lab)), 545 (Brake(LibDem)).  Second, denying the vote will in no way deter people from crime, given that many prisoners would not vote anyway, and the loss of the vote would add nothing by way of discouragement, for most offenders, to the loss of liberty.  And the vote itself will not harm the public through the choice of harmful candidates.  (This public protection rationale may justify, in my view, disenfranchisement in cases such as post-war Germany or Rwanda, or in cases of electoral fraud, where there is a special proportionality akin to expulsion from a profession for misconduct). We thus arrive at the third argument – that it is necessary to punish the criminal.  I see why some will think this is punishment, even though for most prisoners it will not be.  But it is not necessary to punish, because the deprivation of liberty and subsequent difficulties in re-joining society constitute the real and effective forms of punishment.  It is true that it is additional punishment for those that care, but then that does not make it necessary, nor does it explain why some other form of additional punishment (no doubt more effective if pain is the goal) could not be sought.

At the very base then, my argument amounts to this: we do not give violent prisoners the vote because they “deserve” it; we do so because they are presumptively entitled to vote as a basic human right, not as a privilege, and we have no good argument for saying it is necessary to take it away.

Jeff King is a Fellow and Tutor in Law at Balliol College, Oxford. 

27 comments on “Jeff King: Should prisoners have the right to vote?

  1. Aileen McHarg
    May 19, 2011

    Well said.

  2. James Wilson
    May 19, 2011

    This is an interesting post but I think you have left out the strongest argument against prisoner’s having the right to vote. This is that in virtually all cases rights have to have accompanying responsibilities – as is acknowledged by the ECHR itself, where rights can be derogated from or subject to lawful, reasonable and proportional limitations. The exception is the Art 3 right not to be subjected to torture. Even the right to life is not absolute – people can be killed in self defence, for example.

    The voting right carries an obvious reflected responsiblity. A right to vote is ultimately the right to have a say in the laws that govern society, of which the most fundamental are the criminal laws. The accompanying responsibility is the obligation to obey those laws. Why should someone who has chosen not to obey them nevertheless have the right to decide how they apply to everyone else?

    I wrote about this a bit more here:

    The other point is that prisoners do have the right to vote – before they choose to commit crimes – and will regain it once they have served their time.

    • Jeff King
      May 19, 2011

      Dear James,

      Thanks for taking time to write your reply. I don’t think that the idea of responsibilities adds anything to the arguments I canvassed in my entry, but I do think that your use of the idea – which is similar to that of the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Cameron ( – exposes the mischievous way in which the idea is presently being used. The mischief is that “responsibilities” are presented as a justification for derogating from our rights, for “rebalancing” rights in the way you’ve suggested. If you violate a “responsibility”, the argument goes, you lose that entitlement we thought was a human right. Does that then mean that prisoners lose all their other rights in prison? Why not? The answer to that question is the same answer to why we should not deprive prisoners of the right to vote – these are basic rights, and they aren’t taken away lightly, if at all.

      The idea of responsibilities, by the way, has an interesting pedigree that I doubt the Conservative Party is fully aware of (perhaps Labour was). Consider this line, which sounds (apart from the dated language) like it’s excerpted from Cameron’s speech: “[We] consider it the duty of man to claim the rights of man and a citizen, not only for himself, but for every man who does his duty. No rights without duties, no duties without rights.” Actually, that was from the preamble of the Rules of the International Workingmen’s Association, written in 1864 by Karl Marx.

      You ask why people who have disobeyed the law should have any say in making them. Does that mean that the Plane Stupid people and Fathers 4 Justice should be disenfranchised? “Well they’re not murderers!” you’ll no doubt say. Right, but they did break the law, so you need a new argument. Suppose you do think they should lose the vote. Two questions then: (1) where does it stop? (2) why give the vote back when the prison term expires? Now, let’s suppose you think there is a relevant difference between jailed criminal offenders and civil disobedience, and we should deny the vote to the former but not the latter. It’s precisely that kind of selectivity of the targets (over and above the inconsistency of the justification) that I am worried about here. These people are vulnerable to serious community bias, and the causes of crime are complex. In these situations, in my view, we want to give human rights the benefit of the doubt, even if it must be done grudgingly in cases where we feel sure (or even know) the people to be bad people. We do that with criminal procedure and fair trials, and we should do it with voting as well. Or so that’s my opinion!
      I hope that does justice to your considered reply. I must sign off for the weekend so apologies if any rejoinder goes unanswered!
      Jeff K.

      • James Wilson
        May 20, 2011

        Dear Jeff,

        Thanks for taking the time to reply. I too am about to leave for the weekend, and this post will therefore be short, but will try and come back in more detail next week other commitments permitting.

        I think the idea of rights and responsibilities is a bit older than Marx …

        If I’m honest I think you are aiming for a sort of doctrinal purity here with your view of rights, which is impossible to achieve, and your arguments are open to the same sort of objections you raise against mine. For example, you say “if prisoners then why not civil disobedience” – I could just as easily say “if prisoners should retain the right to vote then why not the right to liberty?” Why any form of punishment at all?

        Prison obviously entails the abrogation of some rights – principally liberty. I don’t see that it is wrong removing the right to vote too, where the disdain for the law has been so great as to warrant a sentence of imprisonment. (Technically I’ve broken the law if I drive at 71 mph, but no-one suggests I should lose my liberty for that fact alone.) Or you could argue for the removal only where the sentence is of a certain duration, as some did following Hirst (No. 2).

        So to answer your questions: (1) it starts and stops with crimes adjudged so seriously that they merit a term of imprisonment; (2) you give it back afterwards because the prisoner is deemed to have done his or her time and therefore repaid the debt to society. (In the same way as they recover their right to liberty.) Yes some are on licence forever and I would agree to them recovering the right to vote – on the understanding of course that they forfeit it if they commit another imprisonable offence.

        That doesn’t strike me as selective, any more than saying some crimes carry prison terms and others don’t. (It’s interesting to speak of prisoners as vulnerable when many are locked up to protect the public …) I don’t see it as cruel or unusual punishment, to use American parlance. Quite the contrary – we all speak of rights and responsibilities in terms of personal morality, as we learn from the word go when our parents allow us to do certain things but expect behavioural standards in return.

  3. Ruvi Ziegler
    May 20, 2011

    Dear Jeff, You may find of interest the following paper that I wrote analysing the ongoing debate in different jurisdictions (the United States, South Africa, Australia, and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights regarding UK and Austrian legislation) as well as in the context of the international human rights treaty regime.
    It is downloadable here:

  4. John Hirst
    May 20, 2011

    It is disappointing that 6 years on this question “Should prisoners have the right to vote?” is still being asked. For the record, on 30 March 2004 the ECtHR answered this in the affirmative and upheld the decision by rejecting the UK’s appeal on 6 October 2005.

    Given that the UK has signed up to the Convention and agreed that the Court has the jurisdiction in such matters, the UK cannot legitimately claim that the Court is exceeding its jurisdiction.

    The UK had argued that by committing their offences and receiving custodial sentences convicted prisoners have lost the moral authority to vote. However, moral authority is not a qualification for the vote. On the other hand, when the expenses scandal broke the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, opined that Parliament has lost the moral authority to govern. Clearly, there is no moral authority for MPs to fiddle expenses. The prisoners have the high moral ground and Parliament is arguing from the low moral ground.

    James Wilson: There is no argument against convicted prisoners having the vote. Moreover, human rights are not dependent upon the victim of abuse acting responsibly. On the other hand, with power comes responsibilities and in this case neither Jack Straw nor Kenneth Clarke has acted responsibly in their roles as Secretary of State for Justice. They are required to ensure that all citizens, including prisoners, get their human rights under the Convention.

    • Patrick Madigan
      November 9, 2011

      What people are getting focused on; is that convicted criminals have owned up to their mistakes…. What people should think about are the criminals running loose, eroding our society with their deviant actions and still deluded in thinking they have a contribution to make in respect to voting.

      MPs – Fiddling expenses; This has been going on for years, and still going on to this day
      Bankers – Crippling our countries economy with their GREED
      Priests – Molestation of young children and no retribution
      Leaders of Countries – Manufacturing lies in order to go to War and kill 1,000s of inocent civilians
      Businesses – Creating offshore bank accounts in order to avoid Tax payments
      Fathers – Who do not financially support their children

      All these are examples of the type of ‘upstanding’ citizens, who deserve to vote.
      Whats civil or humane about that?

      At least prisoners are true to themselves and own up to their own defaults. I’d rather listen to what they have to say about our future.

      I welcome your opinion and would like you to take part in my study for my Masters in Criminal Justice.
      ‘Disenfranchised Inamtes: Should prisoners be given the right to vote?’

      I am interviewing a few people in respect to this hot topic and would love to have your input.

      Contact: Patrick Email:

    • Alan
      August 13, 2014

      I do not agree that the vote is a human right. It is qualified by being a law abiding citizen over a certain age. Serving Criminals do not have the right to vote under the British Constitution. However the right to vote was given to women and people over age 18 by acts of Parliament which takes president over EU law as far as I am conserned if you live in UK.
      A Human right is the right to live safely in society and breath the air. People who commit criminal acts (against society) and forfit their liberty have certain priveleges of society withdrawn, one of which is the qualification to vote.
      People these days talk a lot about Human rights and quite frankly they take a lot for granted.

  5. EC
    May 20, 2011

    This is a well argued and attractively presented point of view, but unfortunately one which doesn’t seem to stand up to logical scrutiny. The essence of the argument appears to be this: “the right to vote is a human right; we know it’s a human right because removing it is so very degrading; consequently everyone should have the right all the time (electoral fraud aside)” (the 5th paragraph of the post). This is obvious nonsense:

    The right to life, for example, is an unqualified human right. Babies have a right to life even before they are born. The right to be free from torture or degrading treatment is a human right. You can’t torture babies. Yet babies do not have a right to vote. We give people the right to vote when we deem them to be sufficiently old enough to be sufficiently mature (see the judgment in Hirst No. 1, in which that view is articulated in the middle of the judgment arguing for prisoners having the vote). Accordingly, the right to vote isn’t an unqualified human right which is exercisable by all humans, except in the most extreme situations. To say that it should be an unqualified right is simply wrong.

    The response would be ‘of course people have to be old enough to understand the vote to be given the right to exercise it’. Once you have admitted that there is a qualification on the right to vote, however, you can’t pretend that qualifications on the right don’t and shouldn’t exist. Rather, you have to join in the debate about where to draw the lines. Even in Hirst, it’s stated that there is a line on voting which can be drawn around “maturity”. If you’ve made an exception for age (capacity) and maturity, why not for their ability to follow rules?

    This is what the ECHR had to say:

    “For example, the imposition of a minimum age may be envisaged with a view to ensuring the maturity of those participating in the electoral process or, in some circumstances, eligibility may be geared to criteria, such as residence, to identify those with sufficiently continuous or close links to, or a stake in, the country concerned…”

    So, even the pro prisoner voting lobby have accepted at the right to vote is qualified by age, maturity, residence, etc. It hardly seems like the right to vote is recognised as an unqualified human right, or a prerequisite for human dignity, and that observation rather undermines the logic behind the argument.

    • Jeff King
      May 23, 2011

      But nothing in my argument turned on it being an absolute right. I walked through why the test we ordinarily use for limiting qualified rights does not morally justify disenfranchisement (and I leave aside institutional considerations of deference that might face the Strasbourg Court). I argued that it failed that test. And the test that I applied ( i.e. legitimate aim and necessary means) adequately explains all the other conditions you gave (and which I had fully in mind when I wrote the post).


      PS. on the right to life being an absolute right, reconsider the text of the ECHR:
      ARTICLE 2

      1. Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.
      2. Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:
      * (a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence;
      * (b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent escape of a person lawfully detained;
      * (c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.

      • EC
        May 25, 2011


        Of course everyone knows that there are qualifications to art 2; it was a simple shorthand to omit it. However, my point was that the art 2 right applies to everyone, however old they are, unless there is a justifiable limitation, as you correctly point out. You don’t, however, have to pass the hurdle of society valuing your ‘maturity’ first to qualify for an art 2 right, which you do for your voting right, in every single ECHR state. If the art 2 point adds anything, it reduces the force of your argument, as it means that even that profound right can be qualified.

        This is what you argue; “…namely that the right to vote is a fundamental human right. It is not a privilege, like a driving license or access to the gym on weeknights. … The fact that it is a human right means it is among the most basic conditions for human dignity, autonomy, and citizenship. One does not forfeit a fundamental human right as the default penalty for non-compliance with law.”

        I don’t think you’ve produced any evidence whatsoever for that assertion. Unfairness in society is a different point. Further, you can’t argue that voting is a prerequisite for human dignity; unless you say that children aren’t human (which is the natural consequence of your argument being correct). What about people without sufficient mental capacity to vote (again, under maturity) – are they not human too? At what age do we deem people mature? That varies in different countries, and clearly isn’t an absolute rule. It follows that the right to vote involves a judgment of the quality of the mind behind the vote. so voting isn’t something that everyone has – the starting point is that noone has it, unless and until they deserve it.

        Accordingly, the right to vote is already qualified by factors which involve a judgment as to the value of a person’s vote. It’s a very small step from saying that someone isn’t mature enough to vote (which we already do), to saying that someone loses their ‘maturity’ through their failure to follow rules (in the same way that a judge might routinely say in sentencing, ‘ that was a cowardly attack’, or ‘it was an immature act of vandalism’). To omit that restriction on the right to vote as the starting point seriously warps the debate.

        For completeness, since that is obviously important, the right to vote following a conviction was similarly limited in republican Roman law. In fact, it’s been a part of legal systems across Europe continuously for two thousand years, rather than a product of an 1870 debate, which you, and the court in Hurst No 1, incorrectly seem to suggest. That’s not to suggest that it’s right simply because it’s old, but rather it’s important to dispel the notion that the restriction on voting was the product of some ‘old fashioned Victorian strictness’.

  6. EC
    May 20, 2011

    Further, it would be interesting to attempt to frame the ‘social contract’ argument in the sort of Human Rights language with which the ECHR is familiar: e.g., We live in a democracy. That means that our laws have been made or approved by democratic institutions. Accordingly, a failure to follow a law is a matter relating to democracy. That argument allows one to frame the failure to obey a law in similar terms to interference with an election; the ECHR allows for a restriction on voting for electoral fraud because it relates to a democratic process. It’s seems a weaker argument because the link between breaking a democratically made law isn’t as obviously close to matters relating to democracy as actual interfering with the actual vote, but it’s essentially the same logic.

  7. Colm O'Cinneide
    May 23, 2011

    I agree with your arguments. It is also worth noting in response to EW’s comments above that prisoners retain all their other basic ‘qualified’ rights (freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression, fair trial, privacy, right to marry etc.) except insofar it is necessary to restrict their enjoyment of these rights to maintain prison order and security: however, they completely lose their right to vote on an incidential basis, as an automatic consequence of their loss of liberty. The loss of this right is therefore inconsistent with how prisoners are treated in other ways, and it’s very difficult to identify any sort of coherent rationale for applying it to everyone sentenced to a jail sentence, irrespective of what they actually did.

    Frankly, the absolute ban on prisoners voting is a legacy of the UK’s historic attitude to voting, i.e. that it was a privilege to be earned, rather than a right. It also reflects a highly atavistic attitude to prisoners, but that’s a story for another day.

  8. Liora Lazarus
    June 2, 2011

    I’m commenting late on this issue I know. But two things:

    Those who believe that the ECtHR is imposing its view on prisoner voting on the UK, might pause to reflect on the fact that a number of the leading commonwealth nations no longer impose a blanket ban on prisoner voting (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa). If we think this is a European imposition, why is it that the United Kingdom is also out of line with the emerging commonwealth consensus.

    For those who interested in responsibilities, I co-authored a report for the Ministry of Justice in 2009 on this question. The report shows that the constitutions that make rights contingent on responsibilities are the old Soviet Constitution and the current Chinese Constitution (and other authoritarian States). Have a look at the Annexes – its all there (

  9. Political Umpire
    June 11, 2011

    “The UK had argued that by committing their offences and receiving custodial sentences convicted prisoners have lost the moral authority to vote. However, moral authority is not a qualification for the vote. On the other hand, when the expenses scandal broke the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, opined that Parliament has lost the moral authority to govern. Clearly, there is no moral authority for MPs to fiddle expenses. The prisoners have the high moral ground and Parliament is arguing from the low moral ground.”

    What about those prisoners who are former MPs in jail because of false expenses claims? Do they regain the moral highground once they’re in jail?

    Liora Lazarus – don’t be so ridiculous. You managed a report on that? Most of the rights in the ECHR are limited by the necessary, proportionate etc qualification and often by the need to balance other competing rights eg art 8 v art 10 in the media injunction cases. What is the rationale behind such restrictions and balancing exercises if not an acknowledgement of the concept of responsibility? No-one is suggesting total obliteration of rights for prisoners or anyone else who fails to show responsibility, but unless you want a total breakdown of society and law and order some notion, somewhere, that someone has to take responsibility for their own actions has to factor into the legal system.

  10. Alan
    August 21, 2011

    For me this comes down to, do we vote for what we would personally want or for what we perceive to be best for society ?
    A criminal often acts against moral and ethical issues for personal gain.
    Should that mentality have any influence on who rules a society they have been excluded from ?

  11. Emily W
    January 31, 2012

    I have come to this very late I know, but it is still an issue.

    The idea that maturity is what qualifies a right to vote is just simply false. Its just age. We like to think that when a person turns 18 they are mature enough to know what is going on, but in my experience most of them are more concerned with the fact they can now legally drink. They do not really pay attention to the world of politics until it suits them and we allow all of them to vote, whether they choose to or not is their decision, so why shouldn’t it be the same for prisoners? Some of whom are arguably more mature and educated.
    Yes they have broken the law, but does that mean that they can’t have a say in something that affects them? Who gets elected effects the prison system, why should those outside of prison be the only ones who get to decide? That is my opinion anyway.

    Not all prisoners will want to vote. But there are those who want to help change the society (that in a lot of cases let them down so they turned to crime in a first place) for the better, can that really be a bad thing?

    I’m only 19, and don’t purport to know all the ins and outs of this. But I see it as, if we want prisoners to come back into society and be a model citizen then maybe we should let them have a say on the type of society they come back into.

  12. real estate attorney
    March 13, 2012

    of course they have the right to vote they commit crimes but that doest mean they cant vote.

  13. Mark
    March 17, 2012

    The most compelling argument, for me, reinforcing the idea that prisoners should have the right to vote is that social conditions play a significant role in whether someone ends up in prison. To this extent, prisoners are the very people who should have the right to vote, in order to rectify the social situation which contributed to their crime and subsequent imprisonment.

  14. Nick
    May 23, 2012

    Either the right to vote is an inalienable human right or it is not. If it is inalienable then all should vote, regardless of status (e.g. mental state, gender, occupation, or age). Logically following that prisoners should be able to vote as should children and the mentally ill. In addition, inalienable would also mean it can not be repudiated. That is, if you have the right to vote you have to exercise it. This would mean that not voting would be illegal.

    If however, you make exceptions in the inalienability of this right then we have a problem, it is no longer inalienable. The exceptions invites perversion, and an opportunity for removing the right for sections of society not popular with the majority. If the majority removed the right from the minority, and the process was repeated several times there would be a selection effect which would render a democracy to a puppet state. For example, exceptions create a precedent that would make it perfectly possible for a majority political party to remove the right to vote from those who voted for the opposition.

    If in a hypothetical society 90% of the population is imprisoned. The 10% out of prison who dictated rules to the 10%. That is not democracy.

    My view is that everyone should vote, and no one should be excluded or allowed to reject the voting right, okay the under fives might chew the ballot paper but its still vote. If however, we choose to limit the enfranchisement then we have to accept that we don’t really live in a democracy (The toddler voting might seem a bit excessive, but you don’t have to eat school dinners, nor have your future decided by grown-ups).

    When I started writing this I didn’t want prisoners to vote. Sadly I have defeated myself with my own logic. It will be interesting to see how a 3 month old baby would choose to vote.

  15. Pingback: Colm O’Cinneide: Prisoners Votes (Again) and the ‘Constitutional Illegitimacy’ of the ECHR | UK Constitutional Law Group

  16. Pingback: Verfassungsblog › Prisoners’ Votes (Again) and the ‘Constitutional Illegitimacy’ of the ECHR

  17. Pingback: Jeff King: Should prisoners have the right to vote? « Prisoners voting rights

  18. Sylvester Uhaa
    February 2, 2013

    John, I agree with your arguements for prisoner’s rights to vote, and we are working to achieve this in Nigeria. As you may know, prisoners in Ghana voted for the first time, I think, in the last election and a Kenyan Hight Court just ruled that prisoners have the rights to vote. I would like to work with you and other interested persons to achieve this in Nigeria in 2015’s general elections. I believe that they have the right to vote and that advantages for voting are far more that disadvantages, and we can choose the principle of the greater good here.

  19. Pingback: Paul Reid: Independence, the referendum, the franchise and prisoners: stormy waters ahead? | UK Constitutional Law Group

  20. Pingback: Should Prisoners Have the Right to Vote? | NewsTake

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This entry was posted on May 18, 2011 by in Human rights, UK Parliament and tagged , .

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