Prisoner voting: Lifting of ban should cover any referendum, says Faculty
A case can be made for allowing all prisoners to vote in elections in Scotland, including any future referendum, the Faculty of Advocates has suggested.
The Scottish government is proposing that only prisoners on short sentences should be given a vote. The current blanket ban has been held to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
In response to a consultation on the Scottish government’s position, the Faculty said the question of restricting prisoner voting provoked strong views on either side, and reasonable people differed in their opinions.
“The Faculty notes that persuasive arguments can be made in support of removing the ban on prisoner voting in its entirety,” the response stated, citing a report last year by Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee.
“However, the Faculty considers that this is ultimately a question for the Scottish Parliament.”
If the right to vote was to be given to only some prisoners, the Faculty added, the best approach was to link entitlement to length of sentence. And in the Faculty’s view, the threshold should be set at four years.
“The main reason for that suggestion is that four years is already recognised as the appropriate point at which to differentiate between prisoners, marking as it does the boundary between ‘short term’ and ‘long term’ prisoners…it marks an obvious point at which to differentiate also between those prisoners who are entitled to vote and those who are not…Where the line should be drawn is ultimately a policy decision for the legislature,” said the Faculty.
The Scottish government’s proposal would apply to Scottish Parliament and local government elections.
The Faculty said: “If the right to vote in local elections is extended to prisoners to the same extent as is done in respect of parliamentary elections, maintaining a blanket ban on prisoners voting in any future referendum would seem increasingly anomalous. It would seem sensible that prisoners’ right to vote in any such referendum should be co-extensive with their right to vote in parliamentary and local elections.”