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MSPs complain of being bypassed on prisoner voting order

13 August 2019

A Holyrood committee has complained of a lack of proper notice and scrutiny ahead of the Scottish Government making an order allowing some prisoners the right to vote in this month's Shetland by-election.

The Delegated Powers & Law Reform Committee has written to Michael Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, calling on him to appear before it to address its concerns.

Ministers made a remedial order claiming it was to ensure compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights, ahead of the Parliament passing a bill to extend the franchise to certain categories of prisoners, in view of court rulings that a blanket ban infringed the Human Rights Convention (click here for report).

However, the timing meant that the committee had no opportunity to express a view on whether the use of this order was appropriate.

The letter also seeks clarification on:

  • why the Scottish Government has taken a different approach to the UK Government in relation to prisoner voting in recent by-elections;
  • whether there was an option to retain the status quo until the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill is considered by the Scottish Parliament after recess;
  • media reports that the Scottish Government intends to revoke the remedial order following the by-election.

Committee convener Graham Simpson MSP commented: "We only received notification of this remedial order the day before it came into effect and this meant we did not have adequate time to assess the proposed change.

"Although we are currently in recess, it is essential for the integrity of the Parliament that suitable scrutiny of any legislation takes place.

"That’s why it is essential that our concerns are addressed.”

The committee is seeking a response to its letter by Friday 23 August. The by-election is on Thursday 29 August.


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