Prisoners deserve to be disenfranchised

Do prisoners really deserve a voice in the system that they rejected?

The North Yorkshire Police website is home to a sad collection of faces. Faces guilty of crimes including assault, theft, blackmail, tax evasion, drug dealing and even manslaughter. They are all serving prison sentences of up to four years and they will all be eligible to vote under new legislation to be introduced next year. The change comes following pressure from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for the government to remove the blanket ban on prisoners’ eligibility to vote. The ECHR believes the ban to be an infringement of prisoners’ rights.

Prisoners cannot reasonably claim that their rights are being infringed upon when they have directly deprived another person of theirs. In 2001, John Hirst, who served 25 years for killing his landlady, challenged the removal of prisoners’ enfranchisement in court, but was dismissed. In 2005, Hirst then went on to appeal with success to the ECHR. He has been a relentless campaigner for the prisoner’s right to vote, and this week rejoiced at the announcement in a homemade video where he stated, “I’m now going to celebrate for the 75,000 prisoners who will be getting the vote – that includes murderers, rapists, paedophiles, all of them will be getting the vote because it’s their human right to have the vote.”

This all comes from a man who, after an unprovoked attack on his landlady with an axe, calmly went to make a cup of coffee, and drank it as she lay fatalling wounded in the next room. Criminals deprive others of their rights, and at the very least they should have their liberties restricted as part of their punishment. His landlady will never vote again, so why should Hirst?

Regardless of a prisoner’s crime or history, once in prison the fact of the matter is this: a prisoner’s living costs are paid for by the tax payer, whilst they do not contribute to society in any way. As a result, their temporary disenfranchisement seems only fair, preventing them from having a voice in the system that they have rejected.

We must consider the future. If the ECHR and the likes of John Hirst have succeeded in making the government back down this far on the grounds of human rights infringement, then where will it stop? Like it or not, prisoners serving sentences longer than four years are still entitled to their human rights, so it is not inconceivable to consider that in the future, those convicted of the worst crimes will be able to vote.

Criminals undergoing their punishment deserve to be disenfranchised as a result of their actions. Once a sentence has been served and an inmate re-enters society, they then have the opportunity to contribute again in a positive way. Only then should they be enfranchised, and allowed a voice equal to yours or mine.


  1. Suggesting that the law should be tit-for-tat, eye for an eye, sets a dangerous precedent. If prisoners are to receive punishment equivalent to that lost by their victim, the door is opened to the death penalty. Are we not at an advanced enough point in society to rise above that? In depriving the prisoners, we are sinking to their level. The right to vote in the country in which you live should be an immutable and permanent right in a free society. If you disagree with that, then I hear China is nice this time of year.


  2. 21 Dec ’10 at 4:51 pm

    Peter Hitchens on crack



  3. The trouble with this argument is it considers prison as only a method of punishment. Arguably, prison has two functions: to punish and to rehabilitate. Prison removes the offender from the masses so they cannot commit crimes while under the process of rehabilitation. However, an interaction with society must be continued on some level to facilitate a smooth return to society by the individual. Surely not allowing prisoners the right to vote will remove any interests they have in politics and the government, the running of society as a whole, and have a detrimental effect on this return to society. Creating this us/them divide will do nothing but further destroy the ex-offenders relationship with society and possibly fuel further offences upon release. I appreciate that the person has committed a crime but this should not be a life sentence, irreparably damaging the relationship between them and society, but a chance to see the error of their ways and contribute more positively in the future.


  4. Plus I struggle with the whole ‘they deprived a person of the rights they had, so now we’re going to remove the rights of the offender.’ It’s dangerously close to the whole eye-for-an-eye capital punishment argument. Somehow I feel you are not against that though.


  5. The only thing prisoners should have taken away from them is their liberty. The question is whether or not their inability to vote is an infringement on this liberty. Personally I would argue it is and thus I believe it is right that they will now be allowed to vote.

    They are, after all, humans.

    Nicely written article despite the fact I disagree.


  6. Contrary to your headline, of course convicted prisoners do not deserve to be disenfranchised save for those convicted of electoral fraud or abuse of a public office (see Hirst v UK (No2) and Frodl v Austria).

    Whilst you are correct in observing the type of offender who will be allowed to vote under the government’s proposals, you are incorrect to claim that legislation for these proposals will be introduced next year. The necessary change to domestic law is as a result of pressure from the ECtHR (see Hirst v UK (No2) and Frodl v Austria), and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and from the Interlaken process. I state necessary change because the government’s proposals do not refer to this, rather it is an attempt to not fully comply with both Hirst v UK (No2) and Frodl v Austria. These cases show that only by amending s.3 of ROPA 1983 to reflect that all convicted prisoners must be allowed to vote, will be evidence of the necessary change.

    You are wrong to claim “Prisoners cannot reasonably claim that their rights are being infringed upon when they have directly deprived another person of theirs”. The HRA 1998 is not about balancing the human rights of prisoners with the rights of victims of crimes. The HRA states that those who have their rights infringed by a public authority are victims. Indeed, the ECtHR stated in my judgment that I was a victim. Under the Actio Popularis principle the Court protects vulnerable groups in society from abuse by the State and from victimisation by wider society. The mere fact that I won the case is evidence that prisoners can reasonably claim that their rights are being infringed. It is your argument which is unreasonable.

    It was 30 March 2004 when the Chamber handed down its judgment, and the government lost its appeal to the Grand Chamber on 6 October 2005. The video was not posted this week but after the government’s announcement on 3 November.

    Indeed, this all comes from me. Isn’t it a wonderful achievement?

    Actually, the trial judge refers to accepting a certain amount of provocation in my case therefore your reference to unprovoked is not only legally but factually incorrect. Perhaps, the word you were looking for was “unjustified”? And, we were both in the same room at the time. Criminals do deprive others of their rights, and if sentenced by the court (the punishment), and given a custodial sentence, they do lose their liberty as part of the punishment. Once again your argument falters. It is true that the dead cannot vote, and I do vote because I am now outside serving my sentence in the community. But, other convicted prisoners should vote because the highest court in Europe has said this should be the case. Accept it.

    Whilst it is true that the cost of keeping prisoners in prison is met by the taxpayers, however, many of them do contribute to society. The franchise is not based upon making monetary contributions. Therefore it is your argument which is not fair. It is precisely to give prisoners the voice in Parliament that I took the case to court. I do not agree with your claim that prisoners have rejected the system.

    As you say: “Like it or not, prisoners serving sentences longer than four years are still entitled to their human rights, so it is not inconceivable to consider that in the future, those convicted of the worst crimes will be able to vote”. The government will have a headache when it returns after the Xmas holiday period.

    “Criminals undergoing their punishment deserve to be disenfranchised as a result of their actions”. Prisoners are sent to prison as a punishment and not for punishment. It is the government in the dock for its actions (or inaction if you like). The ECtHR made it clear in my case that seriousness of crime or length of sentence is not a factor to be taken into account in relation to the franchise. So, the prisoners conduct is no yardstick in relation to the vote. It is a basic human right in a democracy.

    Prisoners are not removed from society and remain part of it even in custody. Some prisoners do contribute in a positive way. Look at me, for example, I went from a law breaker to a law-maker. I am doing the public a service by reforming the law. Freedom of expression extends to prisoners. Society can learn from the prisoners voice, and it is equal to any other voice in society. The government had argued that prisoners had lost the moral authority to vote, but this was rejected by the Court. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, when the expenses scandal broke, stated that Parliament had lost the moral authority to govern. When I won the case, I also claimed the moral high ground.

    Because the government has not handed over the White Flag of Surrender, it means that the £135m (which the taxpayers will have to pay for denying prisoners the vote in last year’s European election and May’s general election) could be doubled if those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and English in the AV referendum, don’t get the vote by May 2011.

    It remains to say, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


  7. Aha

    Mr John Hirst has commented^

    The lowlife who hacked his landlady to death, expressed no remorse and now laughs at the fact that rapists, paedophiles and murderers get the vote

    Aren’t they putting you back inside anyway? That celebratory joint was a mistake wasn’t it?


  8. I agree with the others. Two wrongs don’t make a right.The whole point of the universality of human rights is to ensure a bare minimum decent standard for everybody – including prisoners.

    There’s no point in debating about whether or not voting ought to be included as one of those rights – the ECHR has already ruled on the matter.


  9. The BNP supports greater investment in biofuels and renewable energy sources. Doesn’t mean that that cause should be argued against because someone unpleasant supports it. John Hirst isn’t a pleasant individual, but it doesn’t mean his cause isn’t right.

    Prisoners, except those charged with electoral fraud, should be given the right to vote. Part of the process of prison should be the rehabilitation of criminals to return to normal, civilised society. As part of that, they should be encouraged to have a say in the running of the country and to realise that they do have a contribution to make to society, rather than being demonised further.


  10. It seems rather odd that Mr Hirst would refer to the law like it means anything at all? Like because it is law, we should accept it – I think that would have been a good way for you yourself to observe life before hacking someone to death perhaps?

    The reason people do not want you, or people like you to vote is because we do not want your input into society.

    I do understand that people do crazy things and everyone has different things that tick in their head – I am not your judge.

    However, I do believe that you, and all criminals should be able to accept that their disregard of the law means that they themselves are not entitled to then gain solace from it. Regardless of what ‘Human Rights’ might say it is, quite clearly, pathetic.

    In answer to this view or other being very close to the death sentence. What is the problem?

    You agree that a man can be told he will barely leave a room for 25+yrs but do not agree you have the right to put him to death?? This does not make sense. A dog attacks a child and will be put down, the dog had no idea it was breaking the law. A man or woman viciously rapes and kills someones Baby and they should not be put down? Instead they should be told they will never be released from prison – sorry, as i say, it makes no sense.

    For me personally, it should work like this – if you are currently serving time for a crime, or are found to be guilty of a crime when something happens to you – you have no rights. If you are found to be guilty of one of the most severe crimes you should be put down.

    This does not mean I want to live in China, as pointed out (although begining to wonder if it could be any worse than the UK??) I do believe in democracy. However, I also think that if I choose to break into someones home and steal their things I, unfortunatley for me, have no rights.


  11. Bring back the death penalty for the most serious offences.

    They’re not human beings – they have given up any pretense of humanity and are on a par with rabid animals that pose a danger to human life.

    They are mad dogs and should be euthanized.


  12. Iveson – Hirst isn’t gonna go back to jail for smoking a joint in a video, are you an idiot? He’ll only go back into custody if he poses a threat to the public, and smoking a bit of weed most definitely does not pose a threat to the public. So actually, I’d say the joint wasn’t a mistake, because it gets his point across perfectly without any risk to himself. Except maybe lung cancer…


  13. 22 Dec ’10 at 1:50 am

    Champagne Conservative

    Amused to see that Nouse, at long last, has given up all pretence of being York’s answer to The Guardian- preferring to throw its hat into the ring with the Daily Mail.


  14. Dom, you are the idiot

    The man is out on license

    Even the slightest offence and he goes back to prison


  15. 22 Dec ’10 at 3:57 pm

    Liquor Liberal

    @ Champagne Conservative

    Not everything that every writer produces is reflective of Nouse’s view as a paper. It’s made up of individuals who have different views on issues. Stop trying to make connections that don’t exist.


  16. @ BR

    “You agree that a man can be told he will barely leave a room for 25+yrs but do not agree you have the right to put him to death?? This does not make sense”

    Er, well apart from anything else, if new evidence comes to light you can review the case and release someone from prison, but you can’t bring them back to life


  17. //This all comes from a man who, after an unprovoked attack on his landlady with an axe, calmly went to make a cup of coffee, and drank it as she lay fatalling wounded in the next room. Criminals deprive others of their rights, and at the very least they should have their liberties restricted as part of their punishment. His landlady will never vote again, so why should Hirst?//

    This is the typical sensationalist tripe trotted out time and time again by the “tough on crime” crowd. You have taken an extreme example of human depravity and, in one fell swoop, set all offenders equal to it.

    Do you actually think that anyone on the North Yorkshire Police site serving a sentence of “up to four years” has committed a crime even approaching the example you’ve provided? Of course you don’t. But car theft and petty assault look positively bland next to a sexy axe murder!

    There may be very good arguments for suspending voter rights during prison terms, but you have failed to provide any. Instead you have plunged yourself neck-deep in the mire of journalistic disingenuousness. Try harder, please.


  18. Dom is right and Peter Iveson is wrong in relation to lifers released on licence. The Cox case established that the Parole Board was wrong to recall a lifer convicted of possession of cannabis and a dodgy tax disc. The High Court held that only those offences which are a risk to life and limb, Benson/Bradley test, and there is a direct link to the index offence warrant a recall to prison.


  19. The right to vote is essential in making government accountable to its citizens, and universal suffrage allows all sectors of society to be heard in the public discourse. Denying such a right to prisoners essentially makes them inconsequential to the ruling party, potentially allowing for drastic abuse of essential rights, needs and dignities in jails to go unnoticed..

    While it may be tempting to scoff at the thought of criminals like John Hirst being denied his wide-screen television, the idea of a silly or misguided teenager imprisoned due to minor acts of violence or theft being brutally beaten by wardens offers slightly less cause for scorn.


  20. I am sceptical of the ‘turn the other cheek’ approach to law. There is unequivocally and unavoidably an eye-for-eye element of justice: that if one person encroaches on another’s human rights, theirs should be removed. Hence we shut prisoners up. A criminal forfeits rights that society granted him before he acted against society. Justice should be robust.

    Yet there also had to be a robust rehabilitative function of justice. It is regrettable that there are criminals who have committed heinous crimes – rape, murder, abduction – but there are also many young men and women who have dealt drugs, been implicated in fights and vandalism, and stolen, which are certainly detrimental to the safety and wellbeing at large but cannot be considered heinous. It is these men and women that the law should seek to rehabilitate and I think the vote would be a very positive thing in this context. According to the determinist viewpoint to which I subscribe (albeit to a moderate degree) people born into deprived social backgrounds become inclined to crime. These kids are not immoral: they’re people who have limited prospects and are disaffected (arguably rightly). Some convicts wouldn’t turn a blind eye to the vote but some would and getting into the swing of politics would surely act as a medium through which the values of our society can be mediated. It is in the interests of society that we give the vote to prisoners, contrary to the argument that it is in the interests of society to remove the right to vote. Under the above argument, adult education in prisons would qualify as one of the rights we ought to remove Yet this probably does a lot of good.

    I think people have an (understandable) kneejerk reaction to topics like this. We are all too aware that the justice system is sometimes compromised by economic values. But a criminal is not going to harm society with a vote, as if they will collude in a furtive operation to loosen laws and so forth. The contribution of the whole prison population would not seriously affect the outcome of an election. John Hirst is contemptible and I agree with the principle of depriving the vote from him, but he is a typical caricature of ‘the prisoner’ that cannot be extended to many prisoners convicted of comparatively petty crimes. The vote will be a valuable function in enfranchising prisoners, particularly those who aren’t inherently rotten people but just mixed up in rotten circumstances.