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  • 03 November, 2022

  • 5 Min Read

Voting Rights for Prisoners Pending Trial

Voting Rights for Prisoners Pending Trial

The Supreme Court recently decided to consider a petition challenging an election law clause that puts a blanket ban on voters who are awaiting trial, are housed in civil prisons and are serving jail sentences.

What Consequences Follow from This?

Disenfranchises a Significant Part of the Population

  • According to the most recent National Crime Reports Bureau (NCRB) data from 2021, 5,54,034 convicts were housed in different jails across the nation as of December 31st.
  • At the end of 2021, there were 1,22,852, 4,27,165, and 3,470 reported detenues, undertrial detainees, and convicts, representing 22,2%, 77.1%, and 0.6% of the total population, respectively.
  • The number of convicts awaiting trial increased by 14.9% between 2020 and 2021.
  • Denying inmates in penitentiaries (prisons) the right to vote is more likely to convey messages that erode respect for the rule of law and democracy than it is to convey ones that uphold these values.
  • Deprive ff Right: Removing a person's ability to vote does not meet the criteria for a legal penalty.
  • Why is the right to vote withheld to a person who is undergoing a trial but has not yet been found guilty of a crime by a court of law but a convicted person can vote while they are out on bail?
  • Even a judgment debtor who has been held as a civil person and arrested for unpaid debt despite a court order is denied the right to vote. Contrary to incarceration for crimes, civil detention is a form of confinement.
  • Lacks Reasonable Classification: In contrast to nations like South Africa, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Greece, Canada, etc., the ban does not have a reasonable classification depending on the type of crime committed or the length of the term given.
  • This absence of classification is incompatible with Article 14's Fundamental Right to Equality.

What provisions pertain to prisoners having the ability to vote?

  • According to Article 326 of the Constitution, the right to vote is a fundamental freedom.
  • People in the police's lawful custody and those who are serving jail sentences after conviction are prohibited from voting under Section 62(5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Despite having their names on the electoral records, convicts awaiting trial are likewise prohibited from voting.
  • Only individuals under preventive custody are eligible to vote via postal ballot.

Source: The Hindu

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