Nick Herbert is the Member of Parliament for Arundel and South Downs and a former Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. Follow Nick on Twitter.
Today the Government will set out options for giving prisoners the vote. It’s extraordinary to see ministers obliged to propose legislation which they clearly find abhorrent. But the European Court of Human Rights has ruled, in the case of convicted killer John Hirst, that our country’s blanket ban on prisoners voting breaches his rights. Earlier this year, the Government was given six months to ‘introduce legislative proposals to bring the disputed laws in line with the Convention’. That deadline expires today.
It seems that Parliament will be given three options: a limited extension of the vote to prisoners serving sentences of less than six months; a wider enfranchisement of those serving up to four years, and retention of the existing ban.
The proposals raise two principal issues. The first is the merits of the case: should prisoners be given the right to vote? This is debatable, but I don’t believe they should. We deprive criminals of their right to liberty by imprisoning them. There isn’t an absolute right to vote, as even the European Court accepts. And voting is surely a civic right, not a fundamental human right. We don’t, for instance, allow foreigners to help decide our government.