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UK explores granting prisoners voting rights based on sentence length

[JURIST] The UK Ministry of Justice (MOJ) [official website] on Wednesday began the second stage of a consultation [text, PDF; press release] on giving certain prisoners the right to vote based on the length of their prison terms, seeking public input on what the maximum allowable term should be. The UK has long banned prisoners from voting [statute text] in elections, but the European Court of Human Rights [official website] ruled [text; JURIST report] in 2005 that the blanket ban violated the right to free elections protected by the European Convention on Human Rights [PDF text]. The MOJ said that even though earlier public input on the issue weighed heavily against granting voting rights to any prisoners, it was bound by the court's decision and must decide to which prisoners to grant the right:

As well as taking account of the results of the first consultation paper, in taking steps to implement the judgment the Government must act in a way compatible with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights: so any approach will need to be within the margin of appreciation afforded to signatory states in applying Convention rights. And the Government must take careful account too of the practical implications of enfranchisement for institutions where individuals are held; for the courts; and for the effective delivery of elections.

In the light of these considerations, and given the serious and difficult issues at stake, the Government has reached the preliminary conclusion that to meet the terms of the judgment a limited enfranchisement of convicted prisoners in custody should take place, with eligibility determined on the basis of sentence length.
The MOJ sought additional feedback on whether the maximum allowable sentence should be less than one, two, or four years for a prisoner to retain voting rights, but said that it would not grant the right to those with terms longer than four years. The closing date for the consultation will be September 25, 2009, and the MOJ said it would issue a separate request for input on the degree to which those in psychiatric facilities should have voting rights.

The UK held its first public consultation [JURIST report] on whether prisoners should be granted the right to vote in 2006. At that time, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said that a public consultation on the issue would be the best way to examine the "difficult and complex issues" raised by giving prisoners the right to vote. Other officials express criticism for the allowance, and shadow constitutional affairs secretary Oliver Heald said that a jail sentence inherently involves a loss of certain citizenship rights including the right to vote.

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