THE EUROPEAN COURT of Human Rights has ruled that prisoners should be given the right to vote, but that member states can act with a certain amount of discretion.
The ruling in the case of Scoppola versus the Italian government found that that blanket ban on inmates voting – as is in place in the UK – is unlawful.
The case was taken by an Italian inmate who argued that he has a right to partake in free elections according to the European Convention on Human Rights. His government said that the prisoner, who is serving a 30 year sentence for murder, could not vote because his sentence was longer than three years.
The court said that inmates with a good behavioural record who have already served three years may be entitled to vote. The ECHR said though that member states have the right to decide which prisoners can be enfranchised.
The ruling has implications for the UK, which last year voted to defy an ECHR decision ordering the country to allow prisoners to vote. The Guardian reports that the UK has been given six months to comply with the decision, which came after a number of appeals and legal challenges.
The Telegraph reports that Prime Minister David Cameron has been urged to ‘stand up’ to the ECHR and continue the ban on prisoner voting.
Irish prisoners have the right to vote following the enactment of legislation in 2006.
Last year’s presidential election was the first time Irish prisoners had the opportunity to vote in such an election since the Electoral (Amendment) Act, while the 2007 General Election was the very first in which inmates could cast their ballot.
According to the Irish Penal Reform Trust just under 200 prisoners voted in the 2011 General Election, which was a significant drop on the numbers who voted in 2007.
Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust told TheJournal.ie that the resistance in the UK to giving prisoners the vote is difficult to understand and very different to the situation here.
He said that the issue never raised controversy in Ireland and that the political parties reached consensus on it.
Herrick said that the take up of the right to vote in Irish prisons is quite low, and that this is perhaps due to a lack of information available. He also said however that voting is not a priority for prisoners, when compared to the likes of conditions, access to families and rehabilitation. Herrick also said that it is unlikely to be a priority for the Irish Prison Service.