No compensation for UK prisoners banned from voting

Over 1 015 United Kingdom (UK) inmates were banned from voting for three years, The Guardian reported.

The publication found that despite the court’s findings that the UK continued to violate prisoners’ right to partake in elections. In 2005, the Strasbourg court found that the UK governments’ blanket ban on permitting any prisoner vote – as illegal.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling stated, The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.”

The article further stated “that prisoners claimed that they were prevented from voting in elections of the European parliament on June 9 in 2009, the British parliamentary election of May 6 in 2010 and elections to the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly and the Northern Irish assembly on May 5 in 2011”.

“It should be extremely worrying to all of us that the government seems to have so little regard for its international human rights obligations or the rule of law,” said Sean Humber, head of the Human Rights Department at Leigh Day, who is acting for 554 clients who were imprisoned at the time of the May 2010 general election and refused the right to vote.

South Africa’s voting rights for inmates:

In South Africa, the Section 19(3) of the South African Constitution states: “Every adult citizen has the right – (a) to vote in elections for any legislative body established in terms of the Constitution, and to do so in secret…

In an article written last year during the 2014 South African general elections (The Mark a Few Prisoners Make, The Star, May 7 2014) the Wits Justice Project (WJP) revealed that only 10% of the 157 394 prison population countrywide were registered to vote.

A landmark ruling by the Constitutional Court in 1999 was that “the universality of the franchise is important, not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts”. This ruling extended voting rights to those serving time. But while inmates are by law permitted to vote in South Africa, very few will be exercising this right today.

Lydia Young the media facilitator at the Electoral Commission, responding to questions sent to her by WJP in 2015, said: “The Electoral Act had provisions that made it impossible for prisoners to register and allowed only prisoners sentenced to terms of imprisonment with the option to vote.”

“The Electoral Commission does voter registration in correctional facilities. Ahead of 2014 elections, 14,283 prisoners were registered in the correctional facilities. So those incarcerated were placed in voting district where there ordinarily resident when not in a correctional facility,” said Young.

‘For purposes of voting, prisoners are deemed to be ordinarily resident in the voting district in which the prison is situated. The IEC provides one voting service per voting district and a mobile unit leaves the voting station for the correctional facility in order to receive votes from those incarcerated. These votes are then put together with the votes cast at the voting station,’ according to Young.

“As a result the Electoral Commission does not keep a separate count of the votes cast in correctional facilities,”

Related Links

Prisoners’ voting rights – Commons Library Standard Note from the UK Parliament website.

The Guardian view on voting rights for prisoners– The Guardian

The Mark a Few Prisoners Make”, The Star, May 7 2014



About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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