Prisoner voting: consultation

The proposal relates to Scottish Parliament and local government elections.

Ministerial foreword

Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations

The Scottish Government is committed to protecting and promoting human rights and will always measure up to that challenge even when it is difficult.

When the Scottish Parliament gained new powers over elections in the Scotland Act 2016, it became necessary to consider how to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights on the issue of prisoner voting.

It is clear that the blanket ban on prisoners voting is no longer fit for purpose as it is not compatible with human rights law. The Equalities and Human Rights Committee in the Scottish Parliament took evidence on prisoner voting and published a report in May 2018 advocating lifting the ban. We want to be clear that having considered the report and taken into account international practice, the Scottish Government does not take the view that all prisoners should be given the vote.

There are a number of possible ways to give prisoners the vote and these are explored in this consultation document. We favour allowing only those prisoners serving short sentences to vote. I consider that this approach would strike the appropriate balance between the right to vote and the aims of preventing crime by sanctioning the conduct of convicted prisoners, and of enhancing civic responsibility and respect for the rule of law.

I recognise that for many people giving any prisoners the vote will be an unwelcome change and there will be concerns about the feelings of the victims of crime. This is why restricting voting rights to those with short sentences strikes us as a reasonable and proportionate response.

There may also be concerns about the practical issues involved in enabling prisoners to vote. Prisoners on remand can already vote so this is not brand new territory. Even so, it is an important issue and views are sought on the practicalities in this consultation.

In an open and democratic society, even long-held views need to be reconsidered from time-to-time. I hope that you will respond to this consultation.

Michael Russell
Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations


Email: Elections Team

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