Prisoners to be allowed to vote in Shetland by-election

Prisoners to be allowed to vote in Shetland by-election

Michael Russell

Prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less will be allowed to vote for the first time in the forthcoming Shetland by-election.

The Scottish Government has said it will take steps this week to align the franchise for the by-election with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2005 that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner voting was in breach of article 3 of protocol 1 of the ECHR.

The Scottish Government has said it is “legally obliged” under the devolution framework to take action following the devolution of the franchise for Scottish Parliament elections in 2017.

As the Shetland by-election will take place prior to legislation addressing the issue, the Constitutional Relations Secretary, Michael Russell, will make a Remedial Order bringing the franchise for the by-election into line with ECHR in order to ensure the by-election is secure.

The provisions in the Order reflect the intention of the Bill currently before Parliament - the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill – which, if passed, will extend the same rights to future devolved elections in Scotland.

The Order will allow prisoners who meet the wider franchise criteria, and who are serving sentences of 12 months or less, to register for a vote in the by-election in time for the 13 August deadline.

It is estimated that the Order will extend the franchise to fewer than five people who, if they choose to register, would then be able to vote.

Mr Russell said: “The courts have been crystal clear – the blanket ban on prisoner voting is not compliant with the ECHR.

“Whether people agree with that or oppose it, one thing everyone should agree on is that elections must be compliant with the law.

“And, unlike the UK Government, who did not rectify this issue for more than a decade, the Scottish Government is legally obliged under the Scotland Act to comply with the ECHR.

“The timing of the by-election means action must be taken now, on a temporary basis, to ensure Scotland does not breach the ECHR.

“The Order will then be repealed prior to the full parliamentary debate on legislation to put in place a long-term solution to the issue.

“The resignation of the sitting Shetland MSP means that we have to move quickly to bring the resulting by-election into line with the law.

“This is a pragmatic, short-term solution, and our intention is that Bill currently before Parliament, if passed, will provide the longer-term solution.”

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