As the voting documents are being distributed, one part of Maltese society will not be expecting any deliveries. Based on the UK tradition, Malta bars people serving a prison term longer than one year from voting. Those given a suspended sentence retain the right. The matter was a controversial battlefield in the UK in 2001 when convicted killer John Hirst challenged the blanket ban on prisoners voting. He lost the case in the English High Court but subsequently won it in the European Court of Human Rights. None of the main political parties was happy about the ruling; the last British Labour government put off doing anything in response. In March 2011, the UK Government set up a Commission to look into the possibility of drafting a Bill of Rights and providing advice on reforming the European Court of Human Rights. In Malta, no such debate is taking place but according to criminal lawyer Joe Giglio, the fact that a person has committed an offence should not have much to do with his right to vote.
“Malta already has draconian punishments, especially for people who are found in possession of drugs. Their voting rights should not be taken away from them,” he said. “They should be allowed to elect representatives to Parliament as it will also affect them once they’re out.”
Fr Hilary Tagliaferro, director of the Millennium chapel, agrees. “The conditions in prison are in the hands of the politicians in government, so why shouldn’t the prisoners have a say in choosing people who are compassionate?
“They should be given the right to vote. Why should a person who has committed a mistake be deprived of his/her human right? They have already been punished enough.”
His views are echoed by George Busuttil, director of prisoner advocacy NGO Mid-Dlam għad-Dawl, who believes that prisoners should retain the right to vote.