The Prison Reform Trust has commented on the government's proposal for all offenders sentenced to four years or more to be automatically barred from registering to vote. The Trust's Director, Juliet Lyon said: "Enfranchising prisoners serving sentences of under four years is an important step in the right direction. However, it does not appear to meet the requirements of European Court judgments which state that the vast majority of prisoners should be able to vote."
The government confirmed the new proposals on Friday 17 December 2010. All offenders sentenced to four years or more will automatically be barred from registering to vote. Prisoners sentenced to less than four years will retain the right to vote, unless the sentencing judge removes it.
The Constitutional Reform Minister Mark Harper said: The government has brought these proposals forward as a result of a court ruling which it is obliged to implement. This is not a choice, it is a legal obligation. We are ensuring the most serious offenders will continue to be barred from voting.
If the government failed to implement this judgement, we would not only be in breach of our international obligations but could be risking taxpayers’ money in paying out compensation claims."
The right to vote will be restricted to Westminster Parliamentary elections and European Parliament elections only. If a prisoner is allowed to keep their right to vote, they would do so either by post or proxy. Prisoners will not be registered at the prison, but at their former address or an area where they have a local connection.
A bar on serving prisoners voting was put in place in 1870. In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of John Hirst that the existing ban on prisoners being able to vote was contrary to Article 3, Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to free and fair elections.