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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April, 2005, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Calls to give vote to prisoners
Ballot box
Seven other European countries prevent prisoners from voting
A campaign to secure people in British prisons the right to vote in general elections has been launched.

Supporters from the three main political parties are backing calls for a review of a 135-year-old law which bars offenders from elections.

They argue that a ban does nothing to deter prisoners from crime and that voting is an "inalienable human right".

But opponents say those excluded from society should not have a say over the way it is governed.

'Civic death'

Backing the Barred from Voting campaign, among others, are former Tory home secretary Lord Douglas Hurd, Liberal Democrat president Simon Hughes and Labour peer Baroness Kennedy QC.

Former Chief Inspector of Prisons Sir David Rambsbotham argues that giving prisoners the vote will help to increase their sense of civic duty.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme that the current law went back to the time when prisoners were sentenced to "civic death".

"Prisoners remain citizens of this country. They've had their liberty removed nothing else. They haven't had their citizens rights removed.

"What is more 62,000 of them... are going to come out as citizens and one of the jobs of prisons is to make them better citizens."

If prisoners are excluded from voting then we don't have a democratic society, we are just paying lip service to one
Bobby Cummines
Unlock

But former Conservative prisons minister Ann Widdecombe said: "When a judge has taken a decision that somebody's crimes are of such an order of magnitude that they need to be taken out of society, then it does seem perverse to hand that same person a say in how that society is governed."

The Prison Reform Trust and ex-offenders' organisation Unlock are spearheading the campaign.

Trust director Juliet Lyon said: "People are sent to prison to lose their liberty not their identity.

"Prisoners should be given every opportunity to pay back for what they have done, take responsibility for their lives and make plans for effective resettlement and this should include maintaining their right to vote.

"It's time to stop pretending that people in prison don't exist."

Unlock chief executive Bobby Cummines said it was a question of moral, not political conscience, adding that prisoners had human rights.

"If prisoners are excluded from voting then we don't have a democratic society, we are just paying lip service to one."

Government appeal

Supporters also claim that only seven other European countries prohibit prisoner voting.

The campaign comes after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that preventing prisoners from voting breached their human rights.

It followed the case of British prisoner John Hirst who took his case to the Strasbourg court.

The government argues that those who commit a serious crime should lose the right to have a say in how society is governed.

A government appeal against the judgment is set to be heard on 27 April and a final ruling will be made later in the year.

The current UK law dates back to the Forfeiture Act of 1870 - which is based on the notion of civic death, a punishment which involves the withdrawal of citizenship rights.

The campaign is also being backed by Labour peer Lord Corbett, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Dholakia.


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