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Repeal of unwarranted restrictions on voting rights

Comment 1st July 2010

Two groups of UK citizens have been deprived of the right to vote: convicted prisoners (the UK government is in any case under an obligation to take action in this respect following the 2005 judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Hirst No. 2 case) and UK citizens ordinarily resident abroad for more than 15 years, according to the most recent modification of the Representation of the People Act. This denial of voting rights, coupled with the exceptions made in respect of members of the armed forces, Crown servants and British Council staff, creates a discriminatory situation in breach of both the right to free movement of persons set out in the treaties of the European Union and of Article 3 of the additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. Such discrimination, founded on the assumption that after a certain time expatriates will become out of touch and lose interest in the government of their country, fails to take account of the fact that there are many legitimate reasons for living and working outside the UK as well as of the new technologies which enable expatriates to follow political news as closely as UK residents can.

Why does this matter?

The observed decline in UK citizens' interest in the democratic process has been the subject of much discussion and thought in recent years, centring on the question of how to revive the idea that the hard-won, fundamental right to participate in the choice of government is precious. It is important ot eliminate unwarranted denials of this right as part of an effort to reinforce its importance: to see it arbitrarily and summarily denied is to devalue it. 

Secondly, all reform should aim at the reduction of injustice, and unwarranted denials of fundamental rights constitute injustice. 

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