A cross-party parliamentary committee has recommended that the government allow prisoners serving short sentences the right to vote.
The joint committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill has said the government should introduce legislation to allow prisoners sentenced to 12 months or less to vote in general, local and European elections.
The committee also recommends prisoners serving sentences of more than 12 months should be entitled to register to vote during the six months leading up to their scheduled release date.
The issue has been under close scrutiny since the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK’s existing complete ban on convicted prisoners voting contravened the European Convention on Human Rights. The committee was set up to draw up options to resolve the impasse, including maintaining the status quo. David Cameron has voiced his opposition to any convicted prisoner having the vote.
But following a six-month inquiry, the majority of committee members recommended that the government present parliament with a bill containing a single proposition of allowing certain categories of convicted prisoners the vote.
The committee's chair, Nick Gibb MP, was one of three committee members to vote for a bill containing two options.
He said: ‘In scrutinising the draft bill, the committee has been examining two separate issues: whether prisoners serving a custodial sentence should be allowed to vote; and the conflict between the European Court of Human Rights, the sovereignty of parliament and the expressed views of the House of Commons which, in February 2011, placed itself firmly against extending the franchise to serving prisoners.
‘Whether parliament accepts the majority or minority recommendations of this committee, it will need to consider whether it is right to extend the franchise to those denied their liberty and the right to engage in society as a result of serving a custodial sentence.’
Former prisons minister Crispin Blunt, who also served on the committee, said it was of ‘fundamental importance’ that the UK respects the international rule of law.
‘For us to fail to respect our international treaty obligations, over an issue as relatively minor as a few thousand prisoners having the right to vote, which the evidence suggests most of them wouldn’t exercise, would be a grossly disproportionate reaction. It would set an appalling example to other nations and undermine human rights across Europe.
‘The committee were persuaded by the evidence that prisoners’ loss of voting rights isn’t an effective punishment, it isn’t a deterrent, and it doesn’t help reduce crime, indeed if anything it does the opposite by working against the rehabilitation of the offender.’
The committee saw no practical difficulties to prevent prisoners from voting and said prisoners would vote by post in their normal place of residence.
Extending the franchise to prisoners serving sentences less than 12 months would result in around 7,000 people being able to vote at any given time and would not have any bearing on outcome of a general election, the committee concluded.