Thursday, May 24, 2012

Votes for prisoners

In a sound-bite age the current kerfuffle over the granting of voting rights to prisoners hasn't been truly expanded within certain parts the media. Checking some outlets we should all be waving a British flag and sticking two fingers up at the European Court who are trying to do away with British law all in the name of 'human rights' as if the scum in prison deserve such.

In reality the ECHR has stated that the current blanket ban is unlawful; that someone serving a 50 year sentence for murder being treated in the same manner as a fine-dodger serving six months is wrong. They're not saying we have to give all prisoners voting rights we just have to set a threshold.

But let's look at it in such a stark manner. Which side you come down on probably depends on whether you view voting as a right or a privilege. For those who view it as a privilege it makes sense to disenfranchise prisoners. They have decided not to obey society's laws they therefore should have no say in the governing of said society.

Those who view it as a right might state that it's not up to the government that is itself part of the voting process to determine who can and cannot vote so all prisoners should be enfranchised.

To me there's a problem with both sides which is why I find the ECHR's judgement to be fair. There's no point in allowing a prisoner to vote on the government of a society in which he will not be taking part. In other words if someone is serving 20 years and their sentence starts just before a general election they're not expected to be out while the elected government is in office. One might argue that the effects of said government have a bearing on them in terms of funding, treatment etc. but to me the argument that they've forfeited such decision making by their actions stands strong.

But doesn't that final point apply to all prisoners regardless of whether they'll be released into a government-ruled society in which they had no say? The trouble I have with that approach is that a blanket ban (as in effect) only works with a fair government. Consider that an elected government decides to go down the police state route. Prior to a general election they arrest 'subversives' under modified (or even existing) terrorism laws and lock them away over the polling period. Oh look they can't vote as they're prisoners another majority for the government - yay!

A person should have a right to vote regarding a society in which they are, or are expected to be, a part of.

A balance needs to be struck and that's what the ECHR are allowing. Rather than accept this as fair though all I'm seeing is a bunch of posturing from both the Conservatives and Labour parties; probably to placate the very tabloids they've been castigating via the Leveson Inquiry.