Video set to provoke debate on prisoners' voting rights

A video created by a student at the University of Sheffield is stirring up debate on the controversial issue of whether prisoners should be given the right to vote.

The video, entitled Should prisoners in the UK be allowed to vote? was created by third year Philosophy student Rob Hughes with funding from the University's Sheffield Undergraduates Research Experience (SURE) scheme.

Rob, 20, said: "The video is aimed at the people who have a gut reaction on this issue one way or another, but, when pressed, don't really know why. If even a single person walks away from the video with the feeling that there is more to be said and more to be understood about the issue, or that they're not sure where they stand anymore, then I will feel that the video was a success.

"In some sense, that's why the video doesn't go into that much detail - I tried to build in a certain number of ways in which the viewer might argue against it. The aim was never to convince people of one thing or the other - it was very much just to get people talking, and to get people to challenge the beliefs they might not even realise they have. For me, that's what doing philosophy is all about."

The video forms part of Democracy and Criminal Justice, a project between the University's Department of Philosophy, School of Law and Department of Politics exploring the ethical, legal and political issues in the criminal justice system. One focus of the project is the hotly debated issue of prisoners’ voting rights, which is the subject of ongoing negotiations between the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the UK Government.

The UK Government are currently at a crossroads regarding the issue after a long legal battle with the ECtHR, which judged that the current blanket ban preventing all prisoners from voting contravened the European Convention on Human Rights. In April 2011 the UK Government lost its final appeal against the repeal of the ban and was given six months to introduce legislation repealing it.

Despite the legal situation, the ban in its current form appears to have strong political and public support. A debate held in the House of Commons on Thursday 10 February 2011 backed the continuation of the current ban by 234 votes to 22.

At the time of that debate, Prime Minister David Cameron said: "It makes me physically ill to contemplate giving the vote to prisoners. They should lose some rights, including the right to vote."

"Nevertheless," explained Dr Chris Bennett, leader of the Democracy and Criminal Justice project, "the Government seems to accept that they must comply with the ECHR ruling or face damaging compensation claims."

Dr Bennett continued: "Earlier this year (22 May 2012), the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg confirmed its verdict that the UK must comply with its judgement, that the blanket ban on voting rights for prisoners contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights.

"The Court is concerned that a fundamental right is denied to prisoners simply because they are in prison – and whether an offender goes to prison isn't just a matter of the seriousness of the crime. So the removal of the vote at present has an element of arbitrariness to it. What the Government needs to do now is to explain the principles that call for the removal of the vote from prisoners. Democracy and Criminal Justice is addressing these key questions of principle."

Additional information

To find out more about the Democracy and Criminal Justice project visit: 

Democracy and Criminal Justice

The University of Sheffield

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Amy Stone
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The University of Sheffield
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