Votes for prisoners: essential for democracy or human rights gone mad?

Sunday 19 October, 13.10 until 13.50, Free Stage, Barbican Special topical sessions

This Battle Bite session is part of a special series of informal conversations between Battle of Ideas speakers on topics in the news, programmed in the days leading up to the festival to ensure they are as topical as possible. All Battle Bite sessions are free and open to non ticket holders.

In 1945, the European Court of Human Rights was established against the backdrop of the Second World War, the Holocaust and the deadly consequences of an era marked by brutal dictatorships. In 2004, this same court passed judgement that a blanket ban on prisoner voting was unlawful. Has the Court gone mad or does this represent the reinstatement of a democratic right that has long been unjustly denied?

Should prisoners – individuals who have committed a crime and thus stripped of their most basic freedoms – have the right to vote as if they were equal citizens with the rest of society? This question hardly exercised minds until the European Court of Human Rights decreed that states should afford their prisoners the right to participate in elections.

Since that judgement, two key questions have followed. Firstly, should prisoners have the vote – was the court right in its ruling? Does the denial of liberty really demand the denial of political agency?

Secondly, what authority did the European Court of Human of Rights have to hand down such verdicts, against the will of the majority and in spite of parliamentary votes against the idea? If the Court is going to engage itself in such decisions – as opposed to the problems of genocide, fascism and basic democracy that inspired its formation – should the UK formally reject its authority and the European Convention itself?

Ian Dunt
editor,; political editor, Erotic Review

Luke Gittos
criminal lawyer; director of City of London Appeals Clinic; legal editor at spiked; author, Why Rape Culture is a Dangerous Myth: From Steubenville to Ched Evans

Andrew Wheelhouse
senior paralegal, Bates Wells Braithwaite LLP

Produced by
Jake Unsworth trainee solicitor, Bond Dickinson; convenor, Debating Matters Ambassadors

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