18 January 2007

Stevenson's Submission to the Consultation on Voting Rights of Convicted Prisoners Detained Within the UK

18 January 2007

Chris Philips
Department for Constitutional Affairs
Electoral Policy Division, 6.21, 6th Floor
Selborne House
54-60 Victoria Street

Dear Mr Philips

Consultation on Voting Rights of Convicted Prisoners Detained Within the UK.

I refer to the above consultation and I am pleased to offer this response in my capacity as Shadow Deputy Minister for Justice in the Scottish Parliament.

In considering the issues set out in the consultation document and those raised by the ECtHR judgement in the case of Hirst v United Kingdom, I am of the view that current legislation withdrawing the voting rights of convicted, detained prisoners is correct and enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of the public.

I suspect it would be a very hard ‘sell’ indeed convincing the public that law breakers should have a say in the election of the law makers. If we start from the premise that the removal of liberty is only considered for those who have breached the basic laws of our society then there can be no question of such individuals continuing to enjoy the most basic right in our democracy, the right to the franchise.

As a Parliamentarian who receives correspondence from prison inmates around the country and not just from the gaol located within my own constituency, I would observe that any proposal to give prisoners the vote at their previously registered address will encounter particular difficulties. For example, I recall one example of a prisoner who, in the course of my attempting to find out which was his ‘home’ constituency in order to refer him to his own MSP, revealed that owing to family circumstances and the passage of time, he no longer had any such address or constituency to call home.

Such an example, whilst perhaps extreme, could be overcome by allowing prisoners to vote in their ‘gaol constituency’. However, this would also be impractical as those constituencies which have a prison population could find the result of their election unduly influenced by the entry into the equation of several hundred prison inmates with the right to vote. I do not know whether this is still the case, but I draw attention to the case of the City of Durham Constituency which had, I believe, during the 2001 Parliament, and may well still have, three prisons located within its boundaries. Clearly, if prison inmates enjoyed the right to vote then Members with large prison populations may well find themselves the subject of attempted and concerted influence from those detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

As stated previously, I believe that the current law in this area is correct. However, if it is to be the case that the Government decides to move from its present position, then I would only support the right to vote being extended to those convicted detailed prisoners with sentences not exceeding three months.

I trust that the foregoing is helpful and should be grateful if you would acknowledge safe receipt.

Yours sincerely

Shadow Deputy Minister for Justice

Stewart Stevenson
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