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11 December 2012
The Law Commission has identified the areas of UK electoral law that will come under scrutiny in a forthcoming review. The review, which will be conducted jointly with the Scottish Law Commission and the Northern Ireland Law Commission, aims to reform the law relating to elections and referendums across the UK.
Electoral law in the UK is spread across 25 major statutes. It has become increasingly complex and fragmented. In addition, recent years have seen a steady increase in the numbers and types of election. Today, the electorate may be asked to vote – at the same time – for a range of representatives. Each type of election comes with its own set of rules and systems, and combining different types into one electoral event introduces yet more layers of electoral law.
In a three-month, public consultation held this summer, the Law Commission for England and Wales asked many of the people involved in setting up, managing, taking part in and voting in elections which areas of the law should be reviewed.
Consultees gave unanimous support to the review and agreed that its aims should be to:
· review the legislative framework for electoral law to provide a clear, principled and consistent structure for setting out electoral laws
· review electoral administration law to rationalise, simplify and modernise the rules governing the conduct of all elections, so as to reduce the risk of mistakes
· identify where the electoral process – and the electorate – would benefit from rules that are more specific and clear, and
· recommend areas where existing rules could be less prescriptive and more flexible to reduce the complexity and volume of laws, and reflect the best interests of voters.
The majority of respondents to the consultation, including electoral administrators, also agreed that the project should focus on technical electoral administration law rather than matters such as voting systems, franchise and electoral boundaries.
The reform will also consider the circumstances under which electoral administration might be challenged. The current legalistic system of challenge leaves little room for investigating, and drawing conclusions from, a complaint about how an election was run if the outcome of the election was not affected.
Frances Patterson QC, the Law Commissioner leading the project for England and Wales, said: “The complexity and sheer scale of the existing framework for electoral law puts at risk the credibility of our electoral process. The price we pay as a democracy when the electoral process loses credibility is high and potentially catastrophic. Our consultees have told us, with one voice, that the law is in need of reform. UK Parliamentary and European Parliamentary elections, as well as UK-wide referendums, are subject to shared rules across jurisdictional borders. We are very pleased to be conducting this timely review in partnership with our colleagues in the Scottish and Northern Ireland Law Commissions.”
The three Commissions aim to develop proposals for reform that will be open to consultation late in 2014.
“Electoral Law in the United Kingdom: a scoping report” is available on the website.