The question of prisoners gaining the right to vote has been in the news today following the government’s announcement that it is going to abolish the blanket ban on prisoners voting in general elections. However, although in today’s media coverage the ban is widely dated to the 1870 Forfeiture Act, it is has been overlooked that the ban, in fact, was removed for a couple of years during the 1960s.
The 1870 Act stated that those convicted of a felony could not vote in elections for Parliament, and covered England, Wales and what became Northern Ireland (but not Scotland due to its different legal system and where the ban has different legal roots, another small error in the coverage).
The Criminal Law Act 1967 and the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 abolished the division between felonies and misdemeanours and, as a result, removed that ban on voting in Parliamentary elections. This was not an accidental oversight but followed a specific recommendation from the Criminal Law Review Committee in the mid-1960s that the specific penalties for felonies, such as being banned from voting for Parliament, did not need to be continued via other means.
The ban was however restored by the Representation of the People Act 1969. Oddly, it did not restore the ban on prisoners standing for election, which had also been rescinded in 1967; that was to become a political hot issue in the 1980s with the IRA.
I am not aware of any evidence one way or another as to whether or not any prisoners did take up the opportunity of voting between the 1967 and 1969 acts in Parliamentary by-elections. If anyone knows otherwise…