The European Court of Human Rights, in the case of Hirst, has held that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners’ voting offends Convention rights.  The previous Prime Minister said that prisoners voting makes him ‘physically sick’ and the House of Commons has passed a resolution in effect encouraging defiance of Strasbourg’s ruling.

Apart from the question of the UK’s obligation in international law to implement the judgments of the Strasbourg Court, and the practical implications of non-compliance, does the ban on prisoners’ voting violate purely domestic constitutional principles?

Three such principles will be discussed:

  • The presumption of liberty;
  • The principle of equality, and
  • Parliamentary sovereignty.

Irrespective of those principles, could the ban be justified as necessary and proportionate in a democratic society? Does it fulfil the accepted aims of penal policy or, on the contrary, does it not speak to those aims or indeed subvert them (in particular, the aim of rehabilitation)?