Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Prisioners and the Ballot Box

The opening paragraph of the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution states (emphasis mine):

"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives."

So therefore the fact that for the first time since 1870* that prisoners are to get the right to vote restored in the UK, is enshrined in our party constitution. The resultant change is not being brought about solely by the good nature of the new Government but as a result of a 2005 ruling the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It was sort of there in our manifesto under the coverall line

"Ensure that everyone has the same protections under the law by protecting the Human Rights Act"

Everyone having the same protections should include the right for everyone to have the right to decide who makes those laws.

No doubt the Daily Fail will be up in arms about this, but the prison population that will be affected by the change in this law is only 70,000 people. Assuming that they will each be entitled to vote in the address where they were last resident, rather than where they are detained, it comes to an average of 117 votes per each of the proposed 600 constituencies.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said a "historic decision to enfranchise serving prisoners" would bring to an end the "archaic punishment of civic death". She said:

"In a modern prison system you would expect prisoners to have rights and responsibilities and politicians to take an active interest in their constituency prisons. People are sent to prison to lose their liberty not their identity."

While each country has the right under the ECHR ruling to decide what offences would carry voting restrictions, rather than the blanket ban that exists as present. If we believe in a restorative prison system, then surely we must believe that anyone serving a conviction no matter for what crime may serve a useful role in society at some point. Even some of those that are serving life sentences without any hope of remand may still be restored and serving useful functions within the walls of their confinement, passing on lessons in whatever way is possible to others that re-offending is not the way to go.

I'm glad to be a member of a party that enshrines the right of the individual. That stands up for each and every one of the citizens of the UK. While standing up for the rights of some individuals may seem hard and a tough thing to do at times, it is important that the rights of all are defended. Of course course imprisonment of some is required for the greater good to society as a whole, but those convicted are still individual citizens.

* The Forfeiture Act (1870) upheld in the Representation of the People Act (1983)

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