The Government today (February 9) published the Consultation Document on Prisoners' Voting Right, to seek the public's views on the policy options on the relaxation of the ban on prisoners' voting right and the practical arrangements for prisoners and remanded unconvicted persons to vote.
The consultation period will end on March 23, 2009.
The High Court handed down its judgment on the three judicial review cases on December 8, 2008. The court considered the existing restrictions on prisoners' right to register as electors and the right to vote under the Legislative Council Ordinance unconstitutional. The court also took the view that arrangements should be made to enable remanded unconvicted persons to vote on the election day while being held in custody. In view of the judgment, it is necessary for the Administration to formulate policy options on the relaxation of the restrictions, and to make practical arrangements for prisoners and remanded unconvicted persons to exercise their voting right.
The Government has proposed in the Consultation Document to remove the existing disqualification of prisoners from applying to be register as electors.
Relating to the relaxation of the ban on prisoners' voting right, the Government has put forward the following policy options:
(a) Option One is to remove the existing disqualification provision under which the following people will be disqualified for voting:
(i) those sentenced to death or imprisonment and have not either served the sentence (or a substituted sentence) or received a free pardon; or
(ii) those serving a sentence of imprisonment.
Allowing prisoners to vote will help return them as more civic-minded citizens as they will be more connected to society. However, there are also views that serious criminals should be disqualified from voting in order to prevent crime and to enhance civic responsibility and respect for the rule of law.
(b) Option Two is to disqualify prisoners from voting if they are serving a sentence of imprisonment for a sufficiently long period (for example, 10 years or over). This is to balance between protecting the integrity of the legislature while retaining the voting right for less serious offenders. The length of sentence is used as a criterion to distinguish serious offences from less serious ones. However, there are comments that the severity of offences cannot be simply defined by the length of the imprisonment sentence.
(c) Option Three is to disqualify prisoners from voting if they are serving a sentence of imprisonment for a sufficiently long period (for example, 10 years or over) while enabling them to resume the right to vote in the last few years of imprisonment (for example, during the last five years). To enable prisoners to vote when they are approaching the end of the term of their imprisonment may enhance their civic-mindedness and facilitate their reintegration into society and rehabilitation. However, as the option is also devised on the basis of the length of sentence, similar concerns about the appropriateness of this criterion for determining the threshold of disqualification may also arise.
The Government has also included proposed practical arrangements for prisoners and remanded unconvicted persons to exercise their voting right in the consultation document. These cover, for example, the registered address of eligible prisoners as electors, canvassing for votes by candidates and the polling and counting arrangements for prisoners.
The Consultation Document can be obtained later today from District Offices or be downloaded from the website of the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau at www.cmab.gov.hk.
People may submit views by post (to Team 2, Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, Room 356, East Wing, Central Government Offices, Lower Albert Road, Hong Kong), facsimile (at 2840 1976) or email (at firstname.lastname@example.org) on or before March 23, 2009.
Ends/Monday, February 9, 2009