IT has been a long-standing custom within the United Kingdom that prisoners didn’t get to vote whilst they were serving their sentence. Many people will think this right and fair as only when they have been released back into society are they able once again to contribute to society and therefore earn a right to have a say on how the country should be governed.
Others will think this illiberal and argue that by allowing prisoners to vote you are helping them to feel like citizens and contributing to rehabilitating them into a society in which they will have a stake.
I don’t personally see anything inherently wrong in denying a prisoner a vote until such times as they are released back into society, at which time they should certainly have a vote, but I can definitely see the merit in both sides of that argument.
The issue of greater concern must be the ability of sovereign states to decide their own laws based on their own democratic elections. The United Kingdom is one of the longest established and most stable democracies in the world and yet there seems to be some doubt as to whether or not Britain can decide for itself if prisoners in British prisons should be allowed the vote.
Based on news reports it seems as if the majority of MPs across various parties would prefer not to enact this and yet our Prime Minister has had to look at this issue for fear of having to pay huge compensation claims to prisoners who may sue the Government because of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.
We surely need to ask questions relating to national sovereignty when a British Government has to consider enacting a policy it doesn’t support, which the majority of Parliament is probably against and which probably goes against the preference of most British people.
The Conservative Party said many times in opposition that their policy was “to be in Europe but not run by Europe”.
Whether or not people like the British Parliament or their politicians they are easily removed if constituents so will it. That is accountability and that is British democracy. There is a good case for denying prisoners a vote, there is an equally commendable case for allowing them to have a vote. Whatever happens it should be a British decision.
Prisoners should receive humane treatment in western democracies and indeed the chance to progress but issues such as voting should be left for individual sovereign states to decide for themselves. If our democratically elected Prime Minister and his Government cannot decide what they feel is best for the country in circumstances where they have a majority of MPs supporting them, and on which they have popular support in the country, then the question really must be asked as to who governs Britain?