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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April, 2005, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
Prisoners' voting bar 'outdated'
Ballot box
The former chief prisons inspector has backed change
The former chief inspector of Scotland's prisons has criticised the ban on prisoner voting.

Campaigners have called for a review of legislation which stops offenders from taking part in elections.

Former Chief Inspector of Prisons Clive Fairweather said times have changed and he does not see why criminals are prevented from joining the polls.

He said it is hypocritical as inmates are asked to be more responsible prior to release yet are barred from voting.

The Prison Reform Trust and ex-offenders' organisation Unlock are spearheading the campaign to give prisoners the right to vote.

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

I don't see that prisoners are so beyond the pale from society that they shouldn't be allowed to vote
Clive Fairweather
Former chief inspector of prisons

Mr Fairweather, who held his former role from 1994 until 2002, told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We say to prisoners, we're preparing you to be more responsible when you come back out and then in the same breath if you say you can't vote then we sound a bit hypocritical.

"I have to say it's not top of any prisoner's list. What they want most is better visits and longer visits.

"They don't see their families for more than an hour under current staffing levels and I think that would probably be most prisoners' priority.

"Having said all that, I don't see that prisoners are so beyond the pale from society that they shouldn't be allowed to vote. But I don't think it's a particularly high priority."

The campaign was started after a European Court of Human Rights ruling stated 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 UK 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.

Outdated concept

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.

Mr Fairweather said: "Times have changed, now most prisoners will return to society. It seems to me to be a bit swingeing.

"There's no question from a Human Rights point of view, we will be compelled to do this anyway.

"But you've got to take public opinion into consideration as well and I have the feeling that most people will feel a little uneasy.

"It somehow sounds as though it's yet another measure that makes life somehow easier in prison but I can tell you from what I saw of prison I wouldn't want to do time in there."

He added that organising voting would not be difficult and could take the form of a postal vote as currently arranged for those who work within the armed forces.

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