Monthly Archives September 2020

Can the hundreds unable to vote at the general election sue?

first_imgPeople who were denied the right to vote at the general election can sue the Electoral Commission, according to Geoffrey Robertson QC. Interviewed last Friday, Robertson suggested that disenfranchised voters would receive compensation of at least £750. That just happens to be the figure that Lord Pannick QC had thought prisoners would be awarded if they took action against the government for Labour’s failure to comply with a finding by the European Court of Human Rights that the UK’s blanket ban on votes for convicted prisoners was unlawful. Though it may not be very practical for individual prisoners to sue, Pannick’s advice appears broadly sound. But Robertson’s promise of compensation for those left queuing outside the polling station last Thursday evening seems rather less convincing. For a start, there would be problems of proof. Prisoners should be able to establish where they were on May 6. But how could other voters prove they were outside a polling station when the clock struck 10? Even if you were photographed by your friends, surely you accept the risk of something going wrong when you turn up nearly 15 hours after the polls opened? And what arrival time would be regarded by a court as reasonable? Could people expect to vote at 9.55pm? Or 9.45pm? Or 9.30pm? Next, why sue the Electoral Commission? Organising elections is the responsibility of acting returning officers – usually chief executives of local councils, though acting independently of their employers. The commission may appear ineffective but it merely sets standards and issues reports. Its guidance says that ‘no one may be issued with a ballot paper after 10pm even if they are inside the polling station and waiting to receive their ballot paper’. That strikes me as an accurate summary of the law. The campaign group Liberty suggested that legal action might be possible under the Human Rights Act 1998. This requires public authorities – including returning officers – to act in a way that is compatible with the rights set out in the European convention. One of those is the right to free elections ‘under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature’. It is, of course, highly arguable that the conditions under which our first-past-the-post elections have been held do not meet that requirement: that is what the Liberal Democrats have been saying for decades. It is equally arguable that a voting system which allows a third party to hold the balance of power does not meet the requirement either. But it is much harder to argue that a system under which a few hundred voters in some constituencies have found themselves disenfranchised does not ensure the free expression of the people. It is not unlawful for public authorities to act incompatibly with human rights if they are bound by primary legislation. There are also restrictions on the damages that may be claimed for breaches of human rights. Section 8 of the 1998 act requires the court to take account of the consequences of an unlawful act by a public authority in deciding whether an award of damages is necessary ‘to afford just satisfaction’ to a claimant. If locking out a few late voters would have had no consequences for election, it is hard to see how damages would be awarded by a court in the UK. What about trying to get the election re-run in a constituency where a lot of people were unable to vote? A dissatisfied voter may present a petition which may be tried by an election court. But there is little chance of a second poll unless the number of people who were locked out in a particular constituency is more than the winning candidate’s majority. Even then, there might need to be some evidence that the non-voters were likely to have supported the candidate who came second rather than, as seems more likely, that they would have voted in proportion to the constituency as a whole. That is because section 23 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 says that ‘no parliamentary election shall be declared invalid by reason of any act or omission by the returning officer or any other person in breach of his official duty… if… the election was so conducted as to be substantially in accordance with the law as to elections and the act or omission did not affect its result’. This get-out clause does not excuse failures by returning officers. Elections should be decided by the people as a whole and not by a single individual – as happened when the US Supreme Court decided the Bush v Gore case in 2000. Of course, there should have been enough staff at polling stations to cope with late arrivals. Journalists are not the only people who leave things to the last minute. But the popular assumption that every wrong should lead to litigation and compensation is a worrying one. If all this had happened in some other European countries it has been suggested that the disenfranchised voters might have stormed the polling station instead of queuing politely in the rain. That might have solved the problem: section 42 of the 1983 act says that the proceedings have to be adjourned until the following day if they are ‘interrupted or obstructed by riot or open violence’. I am not, of course, putting this forward as a serious suggestion; for one thing, rioters risk arrest. But prisoners on remand are still entitled to vote.last_img read more

Judicial training drive seeks to foster clarity on citizens’ rights

first_imgA Europe-wide judicial training programme to establish a common set of procedural rules and citizens’ rights before the law began this week, as it emerged that there are more than 6,000 violations of judicial procedures currently due to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. EU minister for justice Viviane Reding told delegates at the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) meeting in Malaga that the programme aimed to foster mutual trust and recognition between member states and, in particular, their respective judicial authorities. Reding said that the huge number of violations waiting to be heard by the ECHR meant that ‘we need to restore citizens’ trust in Europe and its courts and ensure that our laws are implemented correctly’. She said the EU would achieve this through a comprehensive programme of judicial training, so that all judges in all member states would follow the same procedures. EU citizens needed to have ‘faith that their rights would be protected across Europe’, she said, irrespective of which country they were in. A CCBE spokesman said the European judicial area could only function effectively on the basis of mutual trust among judges, legal professionals, businesses and citizens, and that this required an understanding by judges of the minimum standards of procedure.last_img read more

Circuit judge resigns over male prostitute allegations

first_imgA circuit judge has resigned after losing an appeal against a decision to remove him from office following allegations over his private life. Gerald Price QC, a judge on the Wales circuit, was the subject of media reports that he had had a relationship with a male prostitute in June 2009. A judicial investigation, which focused only on aspects of the allegations that would have an impact on his role as a judge, concluded that his actions had brought the judiciary into disrepute. The lord chancellor and lord chief justice informed Price in December 2009 that he would be removed from office. Price exercised his right to have the decision reviewed by a Review Body panel, which was chaired by Lady Justice Smith. The panel agreed with the original decision that Price should be removed from office. However, Price resigned on 30 June before the disciplinary process had formally concluded. A spokeswoman for the Office for Judicial Complaints said: ‘Gerald Price QC, a circuit judge who was appointed to the Wales circuit in 2000, has resigned from judicial office following an investigation into allegations about his conduct originally published in the media in June 2009. ‘While the media reported a number of allegations against Judge Price, the judicial investigation only focused on those that had an impact on his role as a judge. The investigation found that his actions brought the judiciary into disrepute, rendering his position untenable. In the light of the investigation, the lord chancellor and lord chief justice informed the judge in December 2009 that they considered his behaviour merited removal from office. ‘In accordance with the judicial discipline regulations, Judge Price was entitled to ask for their decision to be reviewed by a Review Body panel. He did so and the panel was chaired by Lady Justice Smith. The panel agreed with the original decision of the lord chief justice and lord chancellor and recommended that Judge Price should be removed from office. The judge has, however, resigned before the disciplinary process was formally concluded. His resignation took effect from 30 June 2010.’last_img read more

Death by exposure

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Secret squirrels

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The climate change conundrum

first_imgStay at the forefront of thought leadership with news and analysis from award-winning journalists. Enjoy company features, CEO interviews, architectural reviews, technical project know-how and the latest innovations.Limited access to building.co.ukBreaking industry news as it happensBreaking, daily and weekly e-newsletters To continue enjoying Building.co.uk, sign up for free guest accessExisting subscriber? LOGIN Subscribe to Building today and you will benefit from:Unlimited access to all stories including expert analysis and comment from industry leadersOur league tables, cost models and economics dataOur online archive of over 10,000 articlesBuilding magazine digital editionsBuilding magazine print editionsPrinted/digital supplementsSubscribe now for unlimited access.View our subscription options and join our community Get your free guest access  SIGN UP TODAY Subscribe now for unlimited accesslast_img read more

Amphibious thinking

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Permanent revolution

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In the detail

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Care for the elderly

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