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Friday, February 11, 2011

Exclusive: Have I Got News For You

Exclusive: Have I Got News For You

Guy blows up Parliament with a rasberry

Ian Hislop

It is intolerable that you continue to treat the subject of obesity and the importance of a politically-correct diet with such levity.
Yours flatulently,
(Guy Cudmore)

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I claim my £5

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Voting by convicted prisoners: summary of evidence - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents


The government has seemingly missed a trick in its response to the European Court of Human Rights decision on prisoners' voting rights. Logically, the court's decision was the right one, but it is at variance with what the general public in the United Kingdom find acceptable. Therefore, the government should try to find a solution which complies with the court's decision and popular opinion at the same time. That should not be an insurmountable difficulty. They should say "yes" to prison votes, but organise them in such a way that it will be well-nigh impossible for virtually all prisoners to vote in practice.

The fundamental principle is that the solution should be fully in accord with the legislation, principally the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. This means that voting prisoners should not be treated less fairly, or more fairly than anybody else. The legislation lays down strict rules on who can be enrolled on the electoral register, and the processes that must be carried out by Returning Officers prior to and during elections.

The following points spring to mind:

1. It could be considered impractical for prisoners to vote in person, in prison, because of the logistical problems - supervising the ballot boxes, transporting the ballot boxes in and out, etc. The cost of the extra effort which would be required from prison staff should also be taken into account. The European Court of Human Rights is unlikely to seek to force the UK to put polling stations inside prisons if satisfactory alternative arrangements for prisoner voting are in force.

2. Prisoners would have to vote somewhere else other than the address of their prison. The locals would find it unacceptable that a block of prisoners voting from the local nick might have undue influence in the local community, no matter how remote the possibility might be. The government needs to address those worries.

Therefore, the following would ensue:

3. All prisoners would have to vote by post.

4. Prisoners will have to be registered to vote at their last known address on the outside.


5. In order to register at an address for a postal vote, the prisoner will have to convince the Returning Officer in the constituency concerned that s/he still has a link with the address.

Most of the applications from prisoners for a vote will fall at this point.

The regulations drawn up by the Electoral Commission, which Returning Officers have to comply with, are detailed and specific. They include measures to minimise the risk of electors voting where they are not allowed (ie no connection with the address) and when they are not allowed (ie already voted), and also measures to control proxies, voting in the stead of somebody else and double-voting etc.

Returning Officers will have to take great care with registering prisoners to vote. They will have to satisfy themselves very carefully that all of the conditions are met. The longer that a prisoner has been away from the address he gives the Returning Officer, the harder it will be for him to prove a connection with that address. It will need a closely-connected next-of-kin or live-in partner still living at the address to be guarantor. A landlord will not suffice unless rent has been paid up-to-date and/or a room will be kept for the prisoner's exclusive use when s/he is discharged. Possibly, once certified at a particular address, then the prisoner can continue claiming that as a residence for the rest of his sentence, but there would have to be a time-limit, perhaps two years then further checks in alternate years.

If Returning Officers go through this same procedure for all applicants for a vote (which they ought to do), then a case of discrimination against prisoners on these grounds will fail.

This makes it very unlikely that a long sentence prisoner will get a vote. The difficulty should go some way towards reassuring the general public about prisoners voting.

6. The procedure for registering prisoners should happen once a year, at the same time, for everyone. Possibly, as a concession, it might be done twice a year, but to do it monthly, like normal Returning Officers do in their districts, is excessive - the general public will not expect it, nor will the European Court of Human Rights.

The Returning Officers as a body should be canvassed once, to find out when is their slackest period of the year, and that should become the allotted date thereafter. Therefore, short-term prisoners will not get a vote unless they are inside at that date. It is unreasonable to expect every prisoner to be processed as soon they are admitted for eligibility to vote - once a year is enough. The onus should be on the prisoner to ask for a vote and become enrolled. There should be no obligation on prison staff to offer an enrolment to vote if the prisoner does not ask. Very probably, part of the way that prisoners order their lives inside will mean that most prisoners will ask, probably more as a percentage of the inmates than the percentage of normal people outside who get on the electoral register. It might be a source of friction between prisoners and staff, which will need handling.

7. The prison authorities will have to organise a centralised routine for prisoners to vote. Returning Officers have to arrange for the paperwork for postal votes to be sent out by a certain date. The address for prisoners will be "c/o HMP Wherever". The staff at every prison should organise a date/time when they give all eligible prisoners their voting paperwork, and make the arrangements for the prisoners all to fill in their paperwork at the same time, to collect prisoners' paperwork, and sent it all off at the same time to the respective electoral counts. Separate arrangements will need to be carried out for by­elections and local government elections applicable to individual prisoners.

8. The prisons will be able to monitor how many prisoners have voted, and in which seats. This information could be placed on a public record in a manner consistent with the Data Protection Act, and the general public should be able to access it.

A procedure such as this should be scrupulous and fair, and should satisfy the European Court of Human Rights that the rights of prisoners are being fairly maintained, and should be acceptable, however grudgingly, to the general public.

If there are any further complaints, then the UK should enquire in the European Court of Human Rights what are other countries doing, and how is their way better, or more in keeping with the treaties, than ours.

1 February 2011

UPDATE: The position in the Republic of Ireland until 2006, when my case led to a change in the law there, was that prisoners were not denied the vote but no provisions were made by the authorities to allow prisoners to exercise their right to vote. My case established that a State had to ensure provision was made to exercise this right.

1 comment:

Jan said...

WHY IS IT that as soon as I Catch up with the intrigue of politics, do the acronyms change their Gaolposts? ( no pun in ten did)