Prisoners to vote for future leaders in UK?

Reuters / Ana Martinez
London is close to a decision on a controversial bill that would give prisoners limited voting rights, as ordered by the European Court of Human Rights. The proposal has sparked public outrage, but the UK’s Attorney General says Britain must comply.

The proposed law has sparked public outrage, but the UK’s Attorney General says Britain must comply.

Prime Minister David Cameron, after previously expressing openness to certain concessions to the court, spelled out his position during a House of Commons debate on Wednesday: “No one should be under any doubt – prisoners are not getting the vote under this government.”

The ECHR imposed a six-month deadline after the UK failed to take the necessary steps to implement the bill. With the November 22 deadline now looming, ministers in Westminster are scrambling to push the bill through.

Attorney General Dominic Grieve said the UK has no choice but to back the controversial bill, or risk backlash in the international community on its human rights record.

“We would certainly be in breach and there is the issue of damages claims in the case of individual persons and therefore that would be costly to the UK government unless it chose not to pay these and, in that case, that would be a further breach,” Grieve said.

Should the UK fail to pass the bill, it would be considered by the ECHR a breach of inmates’ human rights.

The proposed legislation has sparked outrage among the UK’s Euroskeptic backbench MPs. Prominent Tory backbencher David Davis, who vehemently opposed the bill, once stated, “If you break the law, you cannot make the law!”

The notion of prisoners helping shape future governments is not something that finds much support in the UK. Those in favor of EU integration argue that the bill would send a clear message that the UK would no longer oppose Brussels.

But UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage argued that any concessions to the ECHR would be a demonstration of how little Britain’s elite cared about its sovereignty.

"This is not about whether prisoners are allowed to vote. It is about whether the British government can make the decision for itself. It is about whether a court in a foreign country staffed by people most of whom have little judicial experience actually has the authority to make this decision. The signal that we are getting is that in time – they may drag it out a year or two – the British government will relent and comply," Farrage told RT.

While the proposed bill has raised renewed concerns over how the EU manages its member-states, it has also prompted a reexamination of the country’s voting system.

With the government finding it harder and harder to encourage voter turnout, as Brits become increasingly alienated from the political process, the bill could be seen as a ‘Eurocratic’ attempt to whip up extra votes.

However, with roughly 22,000 prisoners potentially in the running to win the right to vote – less than 0.5 percent of registered voters in the UK – this scenario is highly unlikely.