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Ex-prisoner John Hirst's crusade to voting 'victory'
John Hirst
Former convict John Hirst is an unlikely human rights campaigner

He has spent most of his life behind bars but John Hirst has vehemently campaigned for the government to change the legal system allowing prisoners to vote. So what motivated this former inmate to fight for so long?

His crusade started over ten years ago whilst serving a 25 year sentence for killing his landlady. Hirst was convicted for manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility in 1980.

Whilst in prison, he made the decision to "reform". Hirst, who spent much of his childhood growing up in care and had floated from one crime to another, started transforming himself into an unlikely human rights campaigner.

After reading in law, he resolved on a mission to change the UK penal system.

"As I'm reforming myself, I suddenly thought 'the system needs reforming as well' so I thought 'right if I can reform, so can the system," explained Hirst.

"I was reading a piece in a book where it said that there are no votes in prison… it inspired me to find out why and I started studying the suffragette movement, things like that and I thought there's no valid reason why prisoners shouldn't have the vote. So once the Human Rights Act came in I decided to go for it.

...even people like Ian Huntley will get the vote, there's no doubt about it. It's a very solid legal judgement.
John Hirst

"I really believe in [this campaign] and someone has got to protect vulnerable people in society and prisoners are very vulnerable. They've got no vote so therefore no voice in parliament. All they can do is riot."

Hirst went to the European Courts in 2004 to lift the 140-year-old ban on inmates casting a ballot and won the landmark case. It ruled the UK government was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The UK government appealed the ruling to the European Court's but lost the following year. In June 2010, it was given a three month deadline by the EU Council to change the law.

Now he's welcoming the news that the government may be forced to allow prisoners the right to vote.

"It's going to be a great leap forward once the prisoners get the vote.

"They will start voicing their opinion and they'll start getting changes that they deserve, whereas before they were getting kicked and they're last in the queue when things were being dished out.

"But now they'll be on an equal footing to everybody else because their vote counts."

In legal and historic terms, Hirst's achievement is ground-breaking. But it will continue to be highly controversial as some of the countries worst offending and most notorious individuals could be invited to the ballot box.

John Hirst
Hirst believes all prisoners should have the right to vote

"I do realise that David Cameron has actually said that lifers and rapists and people like that won't get the vote.

"But quite clearly he hasn't read the judgement and he needs to read that to make sure that even people like Ian Huntley will get the vote, there's no doubt about it. It's a very solid legal judgement."

So how does he react to those who feel strongly against prisoners' rights?

"They should lose their rights if they think other human beings should lose their rights, see how they feel.

"Some of these people make me sick - the people who are saying that. They start moralising; they think they're better than everyone else, well they're not. They're worse.

"If you start treating prisoners badly they just come out worse than they went in and then society complains that they're re-offending."

Now that his campaign is coming to an end, Hirst doesn't believe in resting:

"There's a whole raft of things we could be doing to move the system forward and bring it up to the level of somewhere like Sweden where the jails are 60 years in front of us."




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