Scottish government launches consultation on voting rights for short sentence prisoners

Michael Russell
Michael Russell

The Scottish government has launched a consultation on allowing certain prisoners to vote in Scottish Parliament and local government elections.

The move comes after Holyrood’s equalities and human rights committee advocated an end to the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner voting.

The UK government decided to change the law this summer to allow a very small number of prisoners to vote in UK Parliament elections.

The Scottish government has acknowledged that the former blanket ban, as per the Hirst v United Kingdom (No 2) ruling from the European Court of Human Rights in 2005, is not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, Michael Russell, cabinet secretary for Government business and constitutional relations, said the government “does not take the view that all prisoners should be given the vote”.

Mr Russell added: “We favour allowing only those prisoners serving short sentences to vote. I consider that this approach would strike the appropriate balance between the right to vote and the aims of preventing crime by sanctioning the conduct of convicted prisoners, and of enhancing civic responsibility and respect for the rule of law.

“I recognise that for many people giving any prisoners the vote will be an unwelcome change and there will be concerns about the feelings of the victims of crime. This is why restricting voting rights to those with short sentences strikes us as a reasonable and proportionate response.”

The consultation was launched on Friday and will run until 8 March 2019.