A group supporting Irish prisoners in British jails has urged the Prime Minster to follow Ireland’s lead and allow prisoners to vote.
Their call comes in a week where David Cameron refused to uphold a European court ruling that all prisoners should be given the right to vote in British elections.
He claimed the current ban on voting from jail “should be a matter for Parliament… and not a foreign court”, although he has a six month deadline in which to implement the Strasbourg court edict.
The PM’s resistance has infuriated human rights organisations across the country, among them The Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, who founded the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas in London in 1985.
Joseph Cottrell-Boyce, Policy Officer for ICB’s Travellers Project, said: “This is not an issue affecting Irish Travellers or any other group differently than the wider prison population; it’s a matter of human rights affecting them all.”
The North-London based charity supports and represents Irish natives in British prisons, including the disproportionately high number of Irish Travellers in jails across the country.
They believe all prisoners should be allowed democratic ‘voice’ while incarcerated to help ensure their human rights are adhered to by the justice system – as they are in Ireland.
“A blanket ban on prisoners’ participation in the democratic process is a senseless infringement on human rights,” Mr Cottrell-Boyce said.
“There are people in prison in this country for non-payment of TV licences; that such minor offences should warrant disenfranchisement is patently absurd.
“When people are incarcerated they should not lose their basic rights, and giving prisoners the vote would give them a voice and help ensure humane treatment in the justice system.”
He added: “The current system is arbitrary and contains many inconsistencies; offenders are allowed to vote before the end of their sentence if they happen to be out of prison on licence or home detention curfew on the day the election is called.
“This undermines the logic of the Government’s argument. If there are to be restrictions on prisoners voting this should be on a case by case basis and as a component of a sentence, not as part of blanket legislation.
“The UK would do well to take a leaf out of Ireland’s book, where prisoners are allowed to vote via postal ballot.”
The European Court of Human Rights’ ruling came on last month, following the Scoppola v Italy case, where it denied convicted murderer Franco Scoppola’s human rights were breached by not being allowed to vote in an Italian jail.
The ECHR claims this is because there is no “general, automatic, indiscriminate” ban on prisoner voting in place in Italy – as there is in Britain.
At present only prisoners on remand are allowed to vote here.
In 2005, the ECHR ruled the blanket ban was unlawful, in 2010 the Council of Europe urged the coalition government to rectify the situation.
This week they reinforced these demands by giving Britain six months to comply with the ruling.