News

Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill Passed

On 20 February 2020, after years of campaigning, legislation was finally passed to lift the blanket ban on convicted prisoners voting.

It's been fifteen years since the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the UK blanket ban on prisoner voting was in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 (A3P1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (Hirst v. the United Kingdom (No.2)).

We gave evidence to the Referendum (Scotland) Bill Committee on the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill. We gave evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee. We responded to the Scottish Government's consultation on prisoner voting. We gave written and oral evidence to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointment Committee. 

We argued that a custodial sentence alone was too low a threshold for the loss of such an important right. That removing the right to vote from those serving shorter sentences had particularly arbitrary effects. That it worked against rehabilitation. That this was an opportunity to put down a marker about the value placed on democratic rights and social justice in Scotland. That we should follow the example set by other Council of Europe states. That it was about human rights and citizenship. That it was about much more than the minimum level of compliance with our legal obligations.

And on Thursday 20 February 2020, with 92 votes 'for' and 27 votes 'against', the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill was passed, enfranchising those sentenced to 12 months or less in custody, and ensuring that a review of the appropriateness of the 12 months cut-off point was delivered by 4 May 2023. 

We're delighted that the blanket ban has been removed, and wish to thank all our members and supporters past and present for their efforts in helping us and others to achieve this.

Of course, there's more to be done ... only extending the franchise to those sentenced to 12 months or less could still be successfully challenged through the European Court of Human Rights. We need to legislate to extend voting rights much further, so that all those people who have spent time in prison return to a community of which they feel a part and believe that they have a stake in its future. We'll also need to ensure that those who wish to vote have the information and support required to do so.

But today, let's take a (brief) moment to remember how far we've come.

Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill 

Disclosure (Scotland) Bill Report

On 17 December, the Education and Skills Committee published its Stage 1 Report on the Disclosure (Scotland) Bill. The Stage 1 debate took place on 16 January 2020 and it was passed with broad support from all parties, although acknowledging that there was still a lot of work to do at Stage 2, given the importance and complexity of the area.

Most of this work will be around: a) amendment/s to ensure that no-one will have to self-disclose a childhood conviction that would not be disclosed by the state b) requirement for accompanying guiding principles or criteria c) clarification of how it fits with other legislation e.g. Management of Offenders Bill and Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility d) what constitutes other "relevant" information, and clarification of the difference between it and information which "ought" to be disclosed. 

Education and Skills Committee Stage 1 Report

HLS Written Evidence

HLS Oral Evidence

Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act

On 29 November the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act came into effect, raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12. Our view continues to be that this should be raised further. The Act contains a commitment to review the age limit and one of our Committee Members sits on the Advisory Group on Reviewing the Age of Criminal Responsibility.

Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill Report

On 13 November, the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee published its report on evidence taken on the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill. It concluded that they “would like to see the … policy on prisoner voting driven by principle and evidence” and that “the Scottish Government has settled on an approach which fails to address the central question of what disenfranchisement seeks to achieve”. We will continue to campaign for the franchise to be extended to all prisoners.

Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee Report

HLS written evidence

HLS oral evidence

Independent Review of the Handling of Deaths in Custody

On 7 November the Cabinet Secretary announced the formation of an independent expert review of the handling of deaths in custody. It will be led by Wendy Sinclair-Gieben (HMIPS) and include Professor Nancy Loucks (Families Outside). The review is designed “to improve arrangements and communication with families of prisoners after their death, as well as looking at preventing suicides. It will also examine the operational policies, practice and training in place within SPS and NHS. Findings are due to be published in Summer 2020.

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