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Prisoners should have the right to vote, says leading committee

A leading parliamentary committee has said that giving prisoners the vote is the only way to uphold human rights and the rule of law across Europe, reports The Telegraph.

The Government has long opposed suggestions that prisoners should be given the vote and appeared to have won a decisive victory in October this year when the Supreme Court rejected the case presented by two convicted murderers that the denial of their voting right was against the law.

However, the European Court of Human Rights, whilst accepting that some prisoners can be denied a vote according to national preferences, has also ruled that a blanket ban affecting all prisoners is illegal and would require review, in the case of Hirst v the United Kingdom [2005].

In response, the Government produced the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill, and set up a joint-parliamentary committee in April 2013 to assess the UK Government position and consider options for changing the law on prisoner voting.

The draft bill makes three proposals: to re-state the existing blanket ban applying to all prisoners preventing them from voting, in contravention of the ECHR position, or extend voting rights to some prisoners, either those serving less than six months, or to those serving less than four years.

The committee was asked to consider the issue of prisoner voting in light of a growing body of opinion, particularly amongst the Conservatives, that the UK should leave the ECHR, repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, and instead enact its own system of rights.

The committee published its report on the matter yesterday and principle among its findings was that failure to comply with the ECHR ruling in Hirst would lower the UK's standing in Europe, and undermine the UK's record on human rights.

The committee's conclusion reads: "We recommend that the Government introduce a Bill at the start of the 2014-15 session, which should provide that all prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less should be entitled to vote in all UK parliamentary, local and European elections."

Speaking afterwards Conservative chairman Nick Gibb said: "Being in prison is about losing your liberty and losing the right to free association and engagement in society. I see participation in an election as intimately connected with the loss of liberty."

Parliament must now decide how to progress in the light of the new report.