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Referendum franchise debate - Scottish Parliament

Date: 13 May 2013

Tomorrow, Tuesday 14 May 2013, the Scottish Parliament will hold a Stage 1 Debate, Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill - for more details about the Bill see this page on the Scottish Parliament website.

Today the Chair of the Commission has written to Members of the Scottish Parliament ahead of the debate.

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Dear Member of the Scottish Parliament,

The Scottish Human Rights Commission welcomes this opportunity to comment on the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill and believes that this Bill provides us with an opportunity to develop a distinctive alternative to the existing UK blanket ban on convicted prisoners voting in elections. This could be a course which brings us closer to the practice in other European democracies such as Denmark, Finland, Ireland, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. As such, the Commission recommends the Scottish Parliament debates on whether all prisoners should be banned from voting in the referendum as expressed in the draft Bill.

The Commission proposes that this section of the Bill be revised to adequately reflect the values placed in Scotland on human rights, social justice and the effective rehabilitation of offenders. It is preferable that the Scottish Parliament adopts a system where electoral disqualification is based on reasonable and objective justifications such as the type of crime committed or the length of the sentence.

Although previous judgments by the European Court of Human Rights ruled against a blanket ban on the right of prisoners to vote in national elections and have not yet addressed the question of referendums, previous cases have shown the direction of travel of the Courts is towards inclusion.

In fact, in a UK case decided in 2005 (Hirst No. 2), the Grand Chamber of the European Court said “… the right to vote is not a privilege. In the twenty-first century, the presumption in a democratic State must be in favour of inclusion.” It is important to note that the only countries where all convicted prisoners serving prison sentences are (currently) disenfranchised are the UK, Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, and Russia.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Alan Miller

Chair, Scottish Human Rights Commission