Prisoner votes by European country


How do other European countries deal with votes for prisoners? The answer is that there is a wide range of positions. The European Court of Human Rights recently accepted that, in this particular area of law, each nation has the right to come up with its own rules - providing they do not come up with a blanket ban.


The UK is, of course, one of the nations that has long refused to give serving prisoners the vote. Austria was another - and its ban went further than the UK by refusing to allow criminals to vote until they had been out of jail for six months. However, it lost a major case at the European Court, linked to the British case, and has now accepted it has to amend its law.

Prisoners in Armenia are banned from voting, but none of them have brought a challenge to the European Court. There are similar bans in Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary and Russia. Hungary and Liechtenstein both have bans but there are moves in both nations to change the law.


The situation in other countries is far from uniform.

Some of the most liberal regimes are in former communist states. In Albania, all prisoners can vote irrespective of their crime or sentence. There have been no attempts to limit the franchise ever since it was introduced after the Iron Curtain fell. The situation is similar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where prisoners can vote unless their crimes relate to the war in the wake of Yugoslavia's collapse.

Other nations where all prisoners can vote include Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland. Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Most prisoners can vote in Cyprus and Romania, unless a judge says otherwise. In Malta, it is the other way around - most prisoners lose the vote, unless they are jailed for less than a year.

In Bulgaria, judges have the power to disenfranchise for life any offender jailed for more than 10 years. If a criminal receives a sentence of less than 10 years, they can still lose the vote. But it must be given back to them after a maximum of 20 years. Judges have so much discretion they can even remove the vote temporarily from criminals who are not jailed.

France has a very complex set of rules relating to the type of sentence because disenfranchisement is considered an additional penalty to be imposed as part of the sentence - and therefore it must be proportionate to the offence.

That means that some serious crimes lead to mandatory disenfranchisement - but far less serious crimes lead to temporary bans. Like Bulgaria, the exact nature of the ban is up to the trial judge. Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Slovakia have similar rules.

In Germany, prisoners lose the vote if they have been convicted of crimes that targeted the state or democratic order. That means that average burglars do not lose the vote, but someone convicted of an act of terrorism or political violence would. Norway and Portugal allow the vote unless a criminal is convicted in similar circumstances to those in Germany.

Italy and Greece applies varying degrees of bans. In both countries life sentence criminals lose the vote forever. Italian and Polish courts can ban a criminal from voting, even after his or her release.

Iceland confines its ban to serious offenders, arguing that such people have lost their civic right to vote by committing a crime that is "considered heinous by public opinion".

In Moldova and Monaco, prisoners can vote unless the courts say otherwise.