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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

'Inmates should get to vote'

'Inmates should get to vote'

 Bermuda: WEDNESDAY. OCT. 17:

Prisoners should have the right to vote, says PLP parliamentary candidate and social commentator Walton Brown.

“There is no inherent reason why people who are incarcerated should be denied the right to vote,” he told the Bermuda Sun.

Mr Brown, candidate for Pembroke Central, Constituency number 17, raised the issue on his radio talk show Bermuda Speaks.

He told us that the -practicalities of allowing prisoners of age to cast a vote could be worked out after the principle was agreed.

He added: “The benefit is we strengthen our democracy and we give people who don’t currently have the right to vote that right to vote.

“Giving the democratic right to vote to citizens is inherently the right thing to do.”

He added: “Detractors can say what they wish, but we should be making decisions based on principles and we should try, where possible and practicable, to extend the vote to as many people as possible.”

Mr Brown added: “First of all, we need to assess the extent to which we want to embrace that principle. If we embrace the principle, we work out the practicalities.”

He said that the problem of which constituency a prisoner’s vote was cast in could be worked out by their previous registration, instead of using the constituency where they were locked up, which could slant elections.

Mr Brown said: “If someone is an inmate, they will be registered to vote and they would get a vote in that constituency.”

Mr Brown spoke out after the UK Government began to consider its options after the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg gave the UK six months to come up with proposals on how it will change the law on prisoner votes.

Mr Brown said he had been unaware of the UK row before he had made the case for allowing people serving jail sentences in Bermuda to vote. But he added: “It’s definitely a matter which should be considered here.”

In May, UK Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs that he would resist the European Court ruling on voting rights for prison inmates. Government was warned it could face appeals for compensation which, if successful, could lead to payouts totalling millions of pounds.

According to the BBC, Mr Cameron said the ban on voting from jail “should be a matter for Parliament…and not a foreign court.”

The Opposition Labour party has signalled it would back Cameron’s hardline stance.

Convicted killer John Hirst took his case to Europe in 2004, arguing that banning him from the polls breached his human rights and won. Hirst went to the European court after the High Court of England and Wales dismissed his action in 2001.

Britain, then ruled by the Labour Party,  later appealed the judgment, but the European Court’s grand chamber upheld the lower court’s ruling. But MPs in 2011 overwhelming voted 234-22 against extending the franchise to prisoners. Britain also denies the vote to people convicted of corrupt or illegal election practices and patients detained in psychiatric hospitals for criminal offences.

The European Court of Human Rights appeared to soften its line in May, saying it was up to national authorities to decide which prisoners should be allowed to vote – but said a blanket ban was illegal.

Those in favour of giving prisoners the right to vote argue that it helps convicts to re-engage with society and could cut crime.

Mr Brown said: “It’s important to have a discussion about it and come to a consensus because this is not defined by political parties. Then we can work out the details.”

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