News

New Bill to extend electoral franchise

Published: 21 Jun 2019 09:03

Citizens of all nationalities to be eligible to vote.

The Scottish Government has published legislation to extend the right to vote in Scottish elections to citizens of all nationalities legally resident in Scotland.

The Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill will benefit around 55,000 people and also reaffirms the existing voting rights of European Union and Commonwealth citizens.

Minister for Parliamentary Business Graeme Dey said:

“Scotland has already led the way by lowering the voting age to 16, and we are building on this progress by extending the right to vote to everyone legally resident here.

“Extending voting rights to all citizens with a legal right to residency demonstrates Scotland’s commitment to equally value everyone who chooses to make our country their home, and is a demonstration of the kind of Scotland we are seeking to build.

“It is only fair that foreign nationals with the permanent right to live here, whether from EU countries or elsewhere, have the right to vote and stand as candidates in devolved elections. This is backed by the public consultation we undertook in 2018 which found 92% of organisations and 78% of individuals supported this reform.”

The Bill also addresses how the Scottish Government intends to comply with the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that a blanket ban on prisoner voting breaches the European Convention of Human Rights.

Mr Dey added:

“We have decided not to extend voting rights to all prisoners. We are confident that restricting prisoner voting to those serving sentences or less than 12 months means we can comply with the Court’s ruling.

“This measure will also support rehabilitation and reintegration back in to society in order to reduce reoffending.”  

 

Background

 The 2018 Programme for Government announced a Bill to extend voting rights for Scottish Parliament and local government elections to include all those with a legal right to live here.

This will utilise the powers devolved under the Scotland Act 2016 covering Scottish Parliament elections.

Changes to franchise are a devolved subject matter under the Scotland Act 2016. For the legislation to take effect, a two thirds super majority agreement will be required in Parliament.

In 2005 the European Court of Human Rights concluded that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners voting in UK parliamentary elections was in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

The Bill proposes that those prisoners sentenced to a term of 12 months or less should be able to vote in Scottish local government and Scottish Parliament elections. This will apply to all “prisoners” who are detained in Scotland, including young offenders who are detained in young offender’s institutions.

The length of sentence reflects the sentencing judge’s assessment of the severity of the offence and other circumstances including the criminal record of the accused. The approach taken by the Bill therefore ensures that disenfranchisement is similarly linked to the seriousness of the crime.

Prisoners will need to be registered to vote by declaration of local connection to their ordinary residence or a previous address in Scotland. Registration to a prison address will only ever occur as a last resort.

Any outcome of Brexit does not alter the legal effect of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the UK. If the UK leaves the EU it will remain as a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights. The Council of Europe is a separate international organisation from the European Union and the UK will remain a signatory to the ECHR.

The ECHR is an international treaty intended to safeguard human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Any person who feels that their rights under the ECHR have been violated by a state party signatory may take their case to the ECtHR. Brexit will not change an individual’s right to take their case to the ECtHR.

The Elections (Franchise + Representation) Bill can be found here