Votes for Prisoners: Yes or No?

Votes for prisoners: essential for democracy or human rights gone mad?

Free Stage, Barbican


Sunday 19 October 2014

This Battle Bite session is part of a special series of informal conversations between Battle of Ideas speakers on topics in the news, programmed in the days leading up to the festival to ensure they are as topical as possible. All Battle Bite sessions are free and open to non ticket holders.

In 1945, the European Court of Human Rights was established against the backdrop of the Second World War, the Holocaust and the deadly consequences of an era marked by brutal dictatorships. In 2004, this same court passed judgement that a blanket ban on prisoner voting was unlawful. Has the Court gone mad or does this represent the reinstatement of a democratic right that has long been unjustly denied?

Should prisoners – individuals who have committed a crime and thus stripped of their most basic freedoms – have the right to vote as if they were equal citizens with the rest of society? This question hardly exercised minds until the European Court of Human Rights decreed that states should afford their prisoners the right to participate in elections.

Since that judgement, two key questions have followed. Firstly, should prisoners have the vote – was the court right in its ruling? Does the denial of liberty really demand the denial of political agency?

Secondly, what authority did the European Court of Human of Rights have to hand down such verdicts, against the will of the majority and in spite of parliamentary votes against the idea? If the Court is going to engage itself in such decisions – as opposed to the problems of genocide, fascism and basic democracy that inspired its formation – should the UK formally reject its authority and the European Convention itself?


Ian Dunt, Editor,

Luke Gittos, Solicitor, Hughmans Solicitors; Legal editor, Spiked; Convenor, London Legal Salon


Andrew Wheelhouse, paralegal, Bates Wells Braithwaites LLP

Produced by

Jake Unsworth, Business Analyst, Santander UK; Debating Matters Ambassador scheme co-ordinator

Tiemo Talk of the Town Review

I said during the debate that whilst I felt this was a fascinating debate, in truth I found it something of a non-debate. After all, as far as I know, no criminal setting out to rob a bank, checked themselves and thought “Oh no. If I get caught and go inside I’ll lose my right to vote.”

All adults have a right to vote, but in my view, if one commits a crime that results in jail time, then in the same way you have been removed from society and had your entitlement to freedom taken away, you also forfeit the right to vote.

I can’t quite envisage too many MP’s in and out of prison’s chasing the all important prisoner vote. I can’t see leaflets saying: “Vote for me and I’ll reduce your sentence!!”

I also don’t think most prisoners, or the general public, by and large, are much troubled by this debate either because 1, as an issue in itself I don’t think it merits much thinking time and 2, as many can’t be bothered to vote themselves.

What’s more important and thankfully the debate covered this at length, is what works best at rehabilitating prisoners. There are 3 key things according to one of the panelists:

1.  Maintaining contacts such as family relationship

2. Investing in prisoners

3. Ex-Prisoners getting work upon their release.

All of this really helps we were told. There would be 39% less re-offending if such plans were in place according to the panel. Do you agree or have you alternative suggestions?

I hope things are left as they are and that the European Court of Human Rights  leaves the UK parliament alone to make its own decisions. What do you think?

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

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Battle of Ideas 2014 –  Votes for prisoners: essential for democracy or human rights gone mad? – 19th October 2014

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1 Response to Votes for Prisoners: Yes or No?

  1. Pauline says:

    I agree with most of what you say. However doesn’t “investing in prisoners” by rehabilitating them give them the right to vote? Obviously as you state this might be the last thing on their wish list so therefore removing this right from them as a form of punishnent does not make sense! We vote for a party with the view that they will ultimately improve our society. The votes of all people are important. ..especially those who believe they are significantly deprived and then behave inappropriately. They may provide politicians with insight as to what needs to change. We should be promoting (through rehabilitation) the importance of a cohesive society and the right to vote is one way of contributing to the development of our country. I thought we lived on a democratic society…..

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