TIMELINE: The History of Prisoner Disenfranchisement in the UK

An Interactive Timeline showing the essential history of  prisoners being refused the right to vote 


History of Prisoner Disenfranchisement UK

Click on the image for an interactive version


In the 2015 general election prisoners won’t be voting, despite several ECHR rulings saying it is illegal. Click the image above to find out how this came to pass.


The History of Prisoner disenfranchisement 


  • The Foreiture Act of 1870 denied prisoners right to vote. It was based on the notion of ‘Civic Death’ where a citizens’ rights were withdrawn if convicted of a crime.



  • In October 2005 in the case Hirst v The UK the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg ruled that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner’s right to vote was illegal. It violated Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns right to free elections:

“The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.”

NT – there is room for a “margin of appreciation” for each state on applying this section of the convention. For example, abuse of a public position. But the convention says this “severe measure of disenfranchisement must not be resorted to lightly.”


  • Cases have been brought forward since then and the ECHR has regularly ruled that  prisoners human rights were violated by being denied the right to vote.


  • In 2010 the government looked set to change legislation to incorporate prisoners right to vote, but it changed its mind.


  • As of Janurary 1st 2014, nearly 80 per cent of cases pending against the UK in the ECHR were related to prisoners right to vote.


  • Most recently in February this year, in the case McHugh and Others v The UK the ECHR yet again ruled in favour of 1,015 prisoners saying their human rights had been violated by being disenfranchised.


  • In light of this ruling, according to the Guardian, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The government has always been clear that it believes prisoner voting is an issue that should ultimately be decided in the UK. However, we welcome the court’s decision to refuse convicted prisoners costs or damages.”


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