Tag Archives: representation of the people act 1983

Liberal Democrat Voice comments policy upgrade

crotpa20002Following the dissolution of Parliament on Monday, today the terms of the Representation of the People Acts come into force. To comply with those terms, Liberal Democrat Voice is upgrading its comments policy forthwith. The enhanced policy can be read here. There will be a brief, almost indiscernible, pause in comments today while essential technical adjustments are transacted.

From now until election day, as per advice in the ALDC Election Law Handbook and in the Agents Manual, all comments by a parliamentary candidate, or by anyone who has campaigned (including telephone canvassing)  for a parliamentary candidate, should contain the correct imprint for that candidate. If a commenter has campaigned for more than one candidate then s/he should provide a separate imprint for each one.

Posted in Site news | Also tagged | 26 Comments

The Phil Woolas judgement: Arthur Balfour was right

The election offence for which Phil Woolas’s election was overturned is, deliberately and rightly, drawn narrowly and precisely (a point Nich Starling made very robustly on his blog and which Iain has also made on Lib Dem Voice).

The law gives very broad scope to contentious and aggressive claims, partly because – as Arthur Balfour succinctly put it when pushed to expand the law in 1905, “It is evidently not easy to go further, if only because of the difficulty of distinguishing between the mis-statements which are due to malice and those which are due to mere stupidity.”

The offence was introduced in 1895 with, until then, the only offence under election law regarding false statements about candidates being if you falsely claimed that someone had pulled out as a candidate.

It is worth considering what, however, would be the position if even this narrow legal offence did not exist. Imagine case, say, of a candidate campaigning to oust a Labour MP and making false claims about the Labour MP being a supporter of terrorism. The Labour MP loses, sues for libel and wins. During the court case it is revealed that the victorious candidate always knew the claims being made about the now ex-MP were false but even so deliberately decided to include them in leaflets distributed during the election.

Without the sort of offence for which Phil Woolas was found guilty the victorious candidate might have to pay up in libel damages but could continue as an MP. (Eagle-eyed readers will have noted by this point that there are some important difference between the Representation of the People Act 1983 and libel law, but they don’t affect this example.) They would be able to continue speaking and voting in Parliament, drawing a Parliamentary salary, accruing a Parliamentary pension and so on for the next few years. Would that be a satisfactory outcome?

Your answer to that determines whether or not the principle of provisions like those in the Representation of the People Act 1983 is right. I think it is – we should give very broad scope to the public getting to determine who wins and loses in elections, but that is not the same as saying that anything goes.

Those who argue otherwise are wrong and, in fairness to Labour, it should be pointed out that the vast majority of the online coverage from Labour bloggers has been to condemn what Phil Woolas did. I also had the experience of listening to Harriet Harman on the radio at the weekend and agreeing with her. She is right that what we know Phil Woolas did has no place in politics even if he manages a successful legal appeal. What puzzles me, however, is that very little new came out during the case. There have been some interesting details – such as the forged diary, the evidence of the Labour Party agent being called “not reliable” by the judges and the complaint about a cat. At heart, however, what we now know Phil Woolas did is what we always knew he did, which makes Ed Miliband’s decision to appoint him not merely a Shadow Minister but one for immigration, all the odder. Hopefully, however, that will soon become no more than a curious political footnote.

As for political campaigning more generally, I don’t think the ruling will have a major impact – nor should it, because the law should only be for exceptional cases. Leafing through the advice I’ve co-authored for candidates on what you should or should not say in political literature (which was quoted in the court case and described by Phil Woolas as “naive”!), there does not look to be anything that needs changing based on this case. In that, there’s nothing new – for when the original provision was brought in by the 1895 act, the Liberal Party’s then election manual, Woodings, was updated to mention this new offence. It rightly noted it but did not make a song and dance about it for it was rightly considered then, as has been the case, to be a provision that only covers unusual and extreme cases. As the Judge put it in the 1911 case which hinged on this offence:

The primary protection of this statute was the protection of the constituency against acts which would be fatal to freedom of election. There would be no true freedom of election, no real expression of the opinion of the constituency, if votes were given in consequence of the dissemination of a false statement as to the personal character of conduct of a candidate.

The law has been in place for 115 years. That Phil Woolas is one of only a very small number to fall foul of it shows not that the law is too broad but that his behaviour was so awful.

Credit, by the way, to the judges for their understanding of how easy it is to find coverage of election candidates online – para 123 of the ruling shows a familiarity with the internet that counters some of the stereotypes about an out of touch judiciary.

Phil Woolas election – full legal judgement

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , and | 7 Comments

Woolas trial: court delays verdict

Lib Dem Voice can reveal that the rare Election Petition Court which was held in Uppermill for the constituency of Oldham East and Saddleworth earlier in September will be delayed in giving its verdict.

Mr Justice Nigel Teale, one of the two High Court judges hearing the case, originally indicated that they would give their verdict sometime in mid-October.

Helen Mountfield QC asked whether there was a likelihood of a verdict at the end of the week of giving evidence, but Mr Justice Teale made plain in the politest and firmest way that neither he nor Mr Justice Griffith Williams, the other …

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged , , , , and | 7 Comments

Election court agrees to examine Oldham East slur leaflet

As we reported last month the Liberal Democrat candidate for Oldham East and Saddleworth was petitioning for a hearing of an election court, alleging a breach of the Representation of the People Act (1983).

The BBC now reports:

A court is to examine claims that a Labour Party election leaflet from former minister Phil Woolas linked an opponent to Muslim “extremists”.

An election court has agreed to hear the case brought by Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins.

He claims Labour falsely portrayed him as taking “illegal” foreign donations.

The court could order a fresh election in the Oldham East and Saddleworth

Posted in Election law | Also tagged , and | 4 Comments

Oldham election result heading to court

As we reported last month, the election result in Oldham East and Saddleworth – where Labour’s Phil Woolas hung on by just 103 votes – has triggered complaints from the Liberal Democrat candidate, Elwyn Watkins, that Labour’s campaign broke the law.

The case is now heading to the courts. As the BBC reports,

In the last few days of the campaign, Labour put out a small newspaper which was predominantly an attack on their Liberal Democrat opponent, Elwyn Watkins.

Mr Watkins believes the leaflet falsely portrayed him as a politician courting votes from militant Muslims; not a group known to be particularly

Posted in Election law | Also tagged , and | 15 Comments

Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins issues a legal challenge over Oldham election result

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Oldham East and Saddleworth in the 2010 General Election has challenged the result.

Elwyn Watkins has submitted a petition for a hearing of an election court, alleging a breach of the Representation of the People Act (1983).

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged , and | 22 Comments
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