Prisoner voting: consultation

The proposal relates to Scottish Parliament and local government elections.


There has been a longstanding ban on convicted prisoners voting in all elections in the UK. The Representation of the People Act 1983 established the current legal basis for the ban and section 3 of the Act sets out that any convicted person is "legally incapable" of voting at any election while detained in pursuance of their sentence or while unlawfully at large when required to be so detained. This ban applies irrespective of the length of the sentence and applies to Local Government and Scottish Parliament elections. Civil prisoners, such as people committed for non-payment of fines, can already vote as they have not been convicted of an offence and do not fall within the definition of "convicted person" in section 3 of the 1983 Act.

Prisoners who are held on remand are also currently able to vote, casting their ballots by postal and proxy voting. Those who have been released from prison on parole or home detention curfew (HDC) are eligible to vote.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found in 2005 that the UK's blanket ban on convicted prisoners voting in elections is in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the ECHR. The Scotland Act 2016 devolved responsibility for the franchise at Local Government elections to the Scottish Parliament. The franchise for Scottish Parliament elections is derived from the Local Government franchise. Accordingly, the Scottish Parliament now has the competence to legislate on all matters relating to the Scottish Parliament and Local Government franchise, and therefore the responsibility for ensuring compliance with the ECHR in relation to these matters.

The role of the Scottish Parliament's Equalities and Human Rights Committee includes considering and reporting on human rights matters. As part of this work, the Committee decided in June 2017 to take evidence on the current UK position, the practical issues around voting in prisons and the arguments for and against allowing prisoners to vote.

Having taken evidence from a wide range of stakeholders and interested parties, the Committee published a report on Prisoner Voting in Scotland on 14 May 2018[1]. The Committee's recommendation was that the Scottish Government "legislate to remove the ban on prisoner voting in its entirety."

The Committee also asked the Scottish Government to consider a wide range of views on this issue going forward, and to consult as many stakeholders as possible, including groups representing the interests of victims of crime and the general public.

This consultation paper gives interested groups and members of the public the opportunity to examine and give their views on the Scottish Government's proposals.


Email: Elections Team

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