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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

MPs make concessions on lifting prison vote ban

MPs make concessions on lifting prison vote ban

Prison reform campaigners welcomed ministers' partial concession yesterday to allow some prisoners the right to vote before next year's local elections.

Amid reports that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is examining which criminals should be allowed the right to vote, No 10 said it would be "unfortunate" if a blanket ban was lifted entirely.

But the Prime Minister's spokesman stressed the government would have to take into account a number of ongoing court cases on the issue as it examines a way forward.

European judges have previously ruled that Britain's outright ban on prisoner voting is unlawful under human rights laws, and the previous Labour government launched a consultation on the matter but failed to change the law.

Mr Clegg is reportedly looking at which prisoners might be allowed to cast a ballot to head off a collision with the Council of Europe which has given Britain three months to comply.

Asked if the Prime Minister felt there was a "moral imperative" to change the current situation his official spokesman said: "He would think that a lot of people in the country would find this difficult to understand, but we will have to take into account what the courts say."

Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon said it was time to "overturn the outdated and counterproductive ban" on prisoners voting.

"Foot-dragging will no longer be tolerated by the Council of Europe," she noted.

"People in prison, with the exception of those proportionately punished for electoral fraud, must be enfranchised in time for the elections in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the local elections in 2011."

The issue threatens to further expose tensions within the coalition - the Tories have previously argued that the ban should remain in place while the Lib-Dems have argued for change.

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