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PACAC launches new inquiry examining the case for comprehensive reform of electoral law

08 March 2019

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee is launching an inquiry asking how urgently comprehensive electoral reform is required, what should be prioritised, and whether there is a need to go beyond the Law Commission’s proposals outlined in their 2016 interim report.  

Background

The legal framework that underpins the UK’s electoral process was described in the 2016 Law Commission interim report as “complex, voluminous and fragmented” – in 2015 the Electoral Commission identified 55 separate Acts of Parliament and 227 other pieces of law relating to elections.

Despite this thicket of existing legislation, most core elements of the law regulating campaigns for parliamentary constituencies and local authority wards have remained unchanged since the nineteenth century. A recent DCMS Committee inquiry, "Disinformation and ‘Fake News’", concluded that the regulation of campaigns has failed to keep pace with the progress made in digital technology, whilst recent prosecutions and investigations have shown that even legal experts are often unclear about how the law should be applied in practice to modern cases.

The Law Commission made a comprehensive set of recommendations for simplifying and updating electoral law in 2016. These have yet to be implemented by the Government, which has cited a lack of time. It has instead proposed several piecemeal reforms and additions to the current statute book.

Terms of reference

The Committee invite submissions that address the following questions:

1. How urgent is a systematic simplification, updating and consolidation of electoral law? 

a) What are the risks, costs or benefits of continuing a piecemeal approach to reform?

2. How could systematic simplification and standardisation of electoral law across the UK be achieved in a way that respects devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? 

3. How far will the Government’s current priorities for reform of electoral law achieve its stated goals of reducing fraud and increasing public confidence in elections? 

4. Are there issues that the Law Commission did not make recommendations on that should be addressed in any systematic reform of electoral law? If so what are they?

5. What reforms are needed to the regulation of local campaigns, local campaign expenditure and electoral offences beyond the simplification, clarification and updating of the current law? In particular (but not exclusively):

a) Should the intimidation of a candidate or campaigner be an electoral (as well as a criminal) offence as recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life?

b) How should the law on the intimidation (or “undue influence”) of voters be reformed?

c) To what extent should candidates and agents be liable for the actions and spending of their supporters or third parties?

6. How does the electoral law need to adapt to reflect the impact of the internet and digital tools on local campaigns?

The Committee will be looking at how electoral rules are enforced in a later inquiry and we are therefore not inviting evidence at this time on the role of the Electoral Commission, local returning officers or the police in enforcement and how this interacts with their other roles.  

Please note that in this inquiry the Committee will also not be considering:

  • voting systems;
  • the drawing of electoral boundaries;
  • the regulation of; national political parties, national political campaigns, national referendums, political fundraising, or political broadcasting and advertising (including online);
  • Foreign interference in elections; or,
  • the franchise, including the age of voting.

The deadline for submissions has been extended to Monday 3 June 2019, to take account of the European Parliament election scheduled to be held on 23 May 2019.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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