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Prisoners to be allowed vote in Shetland by-election

2 August 2019

Serving prisoners will be allowed the vote in Scotland for the first time, after the Scottish Government announced its intention to extend the franchise for the forthcoming Shetland by-election.

Power over the franchise for Scottish Parliament elections was devolved in 2017, and as the Scottish Government and Parliament are bound by statute to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell will make a remedial order bringing the franchise for the by-election into line with the Convention.

Made under s 12 of the Convention Rights (Compliance) (Scotland) Act 2001, the order will reflect the intention of the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill, currently before the Parliament. If passed, the bill will allow prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less, and who would be entitled to vote if released, to register to vote in the by-election in time for the 13 August deadline.

It follows the 2005 European Court of Human Rights ruling that found the UK Government’s blanket ban on prisoner voting is a breach of human rights. Westminster has delayed in changing the law in line with the ruling.

The by-election has been caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott. It is estimated that the order will extend the franchise to fewer than five people, should they choose to register.

Mr Russell said: "The timing of the by-election means action must be taken now, on a temporary basis, to ensure Scotland does not breach the ECHR. The order will then be repealed prior to the full parliamentary debate on legislation to put in place a long-term solution to the issue.

"The resignation of the sitting Shetland MSP means that we have to move quickly to bring the resulting by-election into line with the law. This is a pragmatic, short-term solution, and our intention is that the bill currently before Parliament, if passed, will provide the longer-term solution."

Section 12 of  allows Ministers to make a remedial order where necessary to ensure compatibility with the ECHR. In this case, an order would be made under the procedure for urgent cases. It will come into force on 2 August, allowing sufficient time for registration by any eligible prisoners.

Anyone serving a sentence of 12 months or less and who can satisfy an Electoral Registration Officer that they would be ordinarily resident in the Shetland Islands if it weren’t for their imprisonment, will be eligible to vote.


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