I could count on no fingers the times I have been present at court to see a defendant receiving a custodial sentence, only to hear them lament, "Oh my fortune! 'Tis to my great dissatisfaction that I shall now have my right to vote taken from me. Is the deprivation of my liberty not enough!" It never happens and, let's face it, the majority of prisoners would think that Gordon Brown is a derogatory term for low-grade heroin. You know, something that promises much but is without substance and ultimately fails to deliver. Quite apt.
However, the European Court of Human Rights has determined that this law, stemming back to the 1870 Forfeiture Act, is unlawful and that Parliament must do something to correct it. The issue came to the fore when an inmate called John Hirst (he killed his landlady with an axe when she asked him to bring in some coal) began a legal campaign on the grounds that because prisoners are deprived of the right to vote, they cannot affect change. What change could he wish to affect I wonder? Voting for a party that will make it legal to go around killing people with an axe?
He felt somewhat aggrieved when complaining about prisoner's conditions that the officers would reply, "Oh you're a prisoner, you're less than human." To which he would counter, "No I'm not, I'm a human being, I've got rights." So did the poor woman he brutally murdered. He thinks that if prisoners are given the vote, then politicians will come knocking on their cell doors asking them what they think, offering "incentives or privileges" to vote. So there it is, the crux of the matter, prisoners being offered "incentives or privileges" to do so. Hardly such a noble cause after all but then again, are you surprised?
In any case, what more incentives could they wish to receive other than the two early release schemes currently being offered by the Government? Maybe the Government will recognise the prisons as constituencies themselves? We could soon be seeing the Robbery and Theft Party, the Never Be Worker's Party, or the It's Okay to Kill Someone Party. At least if this did happen and one of them should be elected to Parliament, there would be no eyebrows raised if it was to later come into the public domain that they were claiming expenses on Cell 443 at HMP Belmarsh as their second home.
Where does all this stop? They've committed a crime, depriving others of their property, liberty - or as in the case of Mr Hirst's actions - their life. Yet the ECHR believes that they should have the right to vote on issues that will affect the lives of ordinary law-abiding citizens. Even if they do get the vote, how long will it be before a legal challenge is raised over these prisoners having to mark a voting card with an 'X'? For 90% of them, that's their signature, and they'll say that using an 'X' therefore makes them identifiable, thus removing the anonymity required for voting. It will happen. You know it will.
Let's hope some commonsense does prevail, which could be achieved by following Eire's lead. There, prisoners are not deprived of the right to vote. However, prisoners have 'no right to be given physical access to a ballot box by way of temporary release, by postal vote, or any other way.' Genius.