Patients' Entitlement to Vote in General Elections

Correction - In a previous published version of this article we referred to patients voting in the (what was then) forthcoming election with Section 17 leave. In fact the Representation of the People Act permits only postal or proxy voting by detained patients.

Originally published February 2005

With the forthcoming General Election, issues are likely to arise regarding the ability of patients to vote.

The following article summarises the Statutory Regulations.

The Representation of the People Act 2000 "(RPA 2000)" provides that a person is entitled to vote if they are registered in the register of electors. A person is entitled to be registered in the register of electors of a constituency if they are resident there. They must also not be subject to any legal incapacity to vote - a person will be legally barred from voting under common law if they do not have the requisite capacity or if they are an offender detained in a mental hospital (or unlawfully at large when they should be so detained).1

Generally, residents in mental hospitals may register to vote from there.

Under the RPA 2000,2 a mental hospital is defined as "any establishment (or part of an establishment) maintained wholly or mainly for the reception and treatment of persons suffering from any form of mental disorder". This does not, therefore, include residential care establishments, although psychiatric wards in general hospitals appear to be covered by the amended definition which now includes "part of an establishment". All such patients (the RPA 2000 does not differentiate between voluntary and involuntary patients) shall be regarded as resident for voting purposes and be entitled to be registered for voting at the mental hospital, if the likely length of their stay is sufficient for them to be regarded as resident. The RPA 2000 provides no clarification as to what length of time is likely to be "sufficient" and this is, therefore, a subjective question to be...

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