A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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Votes for prisoners?
11/01/2011 14:22:00

This morning, I took part in a debate on whether serving prisoners should have the right to vote.

A bar on serving prisoners voting was first put in place in 1870. Five years ago, the European Court of Human Rights (nothing to do with the EU) ruled that a blanket bar was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the UK is a signatory (they did not rule that any kind of bar was contrary to the Convention, merely that a blanket bar was not proportionate).

So long as the UK remains a signatory to the Convention, we are legally obliged to implement this judgement. The previous Government said that it would do so but never did. Around 2,500 prisoners have now lodged compensation claims and in November the Court handed down another judgement against the UK, in which it set a deadline for the introduction of legislation of August 2011.

Just before Christmas, the current Government announced that it will implement the judgement in a way that meets its legal obligations but goes no further than that. It believes that this means allowing prisoners sentenced to less than four years in jail to vote in General and European elections unless the sentencing judge rules that this is not appropriate.

I appreciate that the Government is in a difficult position but I have to say I am not happy about that. The people I represent think the law is already too soft on people who commit crimes. There is also an important issue of principle at stake - decisions like this should be made by elected politicians who can be voted out of office, not unaccountable judges. Before it brings forward legislation, the Government should allow Parliament to debate the issue and if other MPs feel the same as I do that will strenghten its hands in relation to the Court.

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Readers' Comments

On 12/01/2011 22:08:00 Paul Ogier wrote:
"The people I represent think the law is already too soft on people who commit crimes." What is your evidence for this 'blanket ' statement? As one of the people you represent, I do not think this way on this matter.
On 13/01/2011 15:22:00 Gavin Barwell wrote:

Since I was selected as a candidate, I would estimate that I have personally spoken to about 10,000 constituents and I have received completed surveys from a similar number. The surveys clearly show that crime is the number one concern and many people comment that they want to see tougher sentencing. You may disagree - and you are perfectly entitled to do so - but you are in a minority. Indeed the one MP who spoke in favour of giving prisoners the vote admirably acknowledged that her constituents didn't share her views.

On 14/01/2011 16:01:00 Simon Goodair wrote:
"The people I represent think the law is already too soft on people who commit crimes."

The people you represent think many differing things, we are a wondrously diverse lot in Croydon! Please try not to misrepresent us while you are representing us, if you see what I mean.

For me it seems sensible for the judges to have the final say, as the decision should be at a case by case level (to some extent at least). However, the law and the high level guidelines on how to apply the law should come via Parliament and so I personally agree that a debate is needed.

If the imposed deadline is the issue then I don't see why there cannot be a compromise where an interim "fix" is applied, to satisfy the European Court's directive, and a subsequent update be applied afterwards after sufficient debate in both houses. This might also allow MPs a chance to find out what their constituents actually think about the subject.

On 21/01/2011 16:19:00 Jim Taylor wrote:
Yes agree - have a short debate. It's not a massive issue and in tough times there are more important issues to worry about (=waste civil servants' time on). Hopefully the outcome will be to do the minimum necessary to bring the UK in line with this ruling. The most important thing is that we don't end up with prisoners claiming compensation. Then it really will become a big issue. It's not worth battling with the ECHR over this one.



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