David Blackburn

The inviolable right of prisoners

The inviolable right of prisoners
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After 6 years of resistance, the British government has submitted to the European Court of Human Right’s judgement that prisoners have the right to vote. It will use a case in the Court of Appeal to make the announcement and then prepare itself for compensation suits.

Understandably, the government is furious that it has been forced to make a concession on law and order, an area where they are weak enough already. Even Dominic Grieve, a firm supporter of the ECHR, is understood to be exasperated.

Straining to limit the political damage, Ken Clark hopes to limit the franchise to those prisoners sentenced to less than four years; judges may also be able to decide who to exclude. But it is not yet clear if those restraints would be compatible with the ECHR’s original judgement, which was unhelpful to say the least, saying that the right to vote is inviolable and that all prisoners are entitled to exercise it.

Advocates of the change, such as Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, welcome (£) a judgement that promotes a prisoner’s ‘identity’ and reintegration into society. I’m all for those, but suffrage is not a question of identity. It is a sacrosanct liberty within prescribed limitations – such as age and citizenship.  Prisoners should be able to voice their greivances beyond the precincts of the governor's office. But they have abrogated their responsibilities to society; for which, certain of their liberties are suspended. The citizen's right to vote should be among them.