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Monday, September 20, 2010



By Paul Gilbride, Scottish Political Reporter

ANGER erupted yesterday as it emerged ministers are to give prisoners, including rapists and murderers, the right to vote in time for next year’s Scottish elections.

In a move overturning a 140-year-old bar on inmates having a say on who runs the country, the UK Government signalled it will finally concede to a controversial European human rights rulings.

It comes just a year after some of Scotland’s worst sex offenders, including “limbs in the loch” killer William Beggs, mounted a legal challenge to have their names put on the electoral register.

A further 100 inmates from Shotts jail have signed up to demands they be given a vote in a “cynical exercise” to get compensation. They believe they will be entitled to future payouts if prisoners are eventually allowed their say at the ballot box.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been championing the cherished Lib Dem policy in the coalition Government and EU officials in Brussels now expect polling booths to be set up in jails for May’s Holyrood elections. At a meeting of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers last week the UK said it was now deciding how to implement the move.

A Council of Europe spokesman said: “The Committee insists that the UK Government take the necessary measures before the elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in May.” A spokesman for Victim Support Scotland said: “There will be victims of crime who will find the thought of prisoners getting the vote particularly galling.

“When someone is convicted it is expected they will lose their liberty and other rights such as taking part in elections.”

Under current legislation, the 1983 Representation of the People Act, a blanket ban against voting is imposed on all convicted persons while detained under a sentence. Remand prisoners and those released on licence do have the right to vote.

The European Court of Human Rights declared in 2005 that a blanket ban breached the European Convention on Human Rights. Scottish Tory justice spokesman John Lamont said the initial European Court ruling was “unfortunate” but added: “Britain has to comply or face legal action by the EU.”

Scottish Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker said: “Prisoners like this have no interest whatsoever in the political system. It is a cynical attempt to try and extract money from hard-pressed taxpayers.” A spokesman for Scottish Government said: “Giving prisoners the vote is not something we agree with or support.”

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