Three prison inmates have launched a legal challenge to force the Scottish government to give them a vote in next year’s independence referendum. The three men, Andrew Gillon and Leslie Moohan, both serving sentences for murder, and a third long-term prisoner, Gary Gibson, insist they want to vote in the referendum. The trio argue that the Scottish government’s refusal to allow them to vote is a breach of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the UK’s obligations under the international covenant on civil and political rights. Their case, being fought by the human rights lawyer Tony Kelly, who has won a series of landmark rulings on prisoners’ rights, follows a long-running political dispute over the franchise for next year’s referendum.
Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, has refused to allow prisoners to vote despite repeated legal rulings by the European court of human rights that the UK’s complete bar on inmates voting is a breach of the human rights convention.
The Scottish government argues that these rulings cover elections, not referendums, although prisoners on remand will be allowed to vote. Nor has the UK government yet bowed to the human rights court by extending the vote to prisoners.
Its critics, including the legal reform group Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, argue that Scottish ministers are free to extend the franchise in a referendum to any group they wish. They have, for the first time in a national event, allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote.