Persons serving suspended sentence to maintain voting right

Proposal to allow persons serving suspended sentence backed by both sides of the House, however opposition objects to allow hospital patients to vote two days before election day. 

Persons serving a suspended jail term will be eligible to vote and contest in all elections, parliamentary secretary for justice, Owen Bonnici, said in Parliament this evening.

Presenting amendments to the Constitution and various voting laws, Bonnici said that the two major proposals being presented are; allowing persons serving a suspended sentence to vote and allowing voters, including hospital patients to cast their vote in advance.

Bonnici explained due to a legal anomaly, persons serving a suspended sentence are not allowed to vote. However he pointed out that the voting right will not be expended to persons serving an effective prison sentence.

Currently, inmates serving a jail term in access of 12 months are unable to vote, while those serving a sentence of under a year are allowed to vote and contest.

Ironically, if these amendemnts are approved before the forthcoming European elections, far-rightist Norman Lowell  will be allowed to contest.

As things stand, Lowell cannot contest the European Parliament elections in May because the law prohibits anyone serving a sentence of imprisonment or anyone serving a suspended sentence above 12 months from participating in the election.

In July 2013, an appeals court confirmed a Magistrates' Court judgement which had condemned Lowell for inciting racial hatred.

Bonnici said the “novelty” in allowing persons serving a suspended sentence was in line with European norms. He explained that 14 European countries allowed prisoners to vote, whatever the length of their sentence.

However, he stressed that the amendments do not envisage allowing inmates serving an effective sentence of 12 months or more to vote.
Insisting that the right to vote is “at the core of democracy,” Bonnici said that upholding this right is what distinguishes democratic countries.

This proposal enjoys the backing of the opposition. However, Nationalist deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami said that the opposition would vote against amendments which would see patients and elderly care centre residents to vote two days before election day.

Shedding doubts over the practicability of having a “substantial number of persons” to vote on the Thursday preceding voting day, Fenech Adami said “we insist that persons in hospitals should vote on election day.”
He said that this did not create any problems during last year’s election and the proposed changes “do not benefit patients and political parties,” adding that allowing early voting on Thursday to hundreds of patients gave room to abuse.