Electoral law in the UK is spread across more than 25 statutes, and many more statutory instruments. It has become increasingly complex and fragmented, and difficult to use. Many new types of elections and referendums have recently been introduced. Each has required its own specific set of laws. Much of the content of these laws is the same at every election. Some of the law is Victorian in origin and has become outdated.
The Law Commission is a statutory independent body. We keep the law under review and recommend reform where it is needed. Our aims are to ensure that the law is fair, modern, simple and as cost-effective as possible.
At the end of last year (9 December 2014) we published, jointly with our colleagues in the Scottish Law Commission and the Northern Ireland Law Commission, a consultation paper setting out our provisional proposals for reforming electoral law.
Our central proposal is aimed at the legislative structure for electoral law. The laws governing elections should be rationalised into a single, consistent legislative framework governing all elections. These laws should be consistent for all elections, save for differences justified by principle (such as use of a particular voting system) or particular policies.
Our proposed approach to a rationalised legislative framework for electoral law will make the law easier to access and understand for those running, or participating in, elections. It will also make it easier to update the law to reflect changing policies or ongoing modernisation by governments or legislatures.
In addition to our central proposal on a new legislative framework for electoral law, we also make several proposals for reform of particular areas of electoral law. For example, in relation to legal challenge, we propose that there should be a means of ensuring sufficient representation of the public interest in elections. Presently elections may only be challenged by private individuals, such as candidates or voters, who may not have the means or inclination to bring a formal legal challenge. The law arguably ought to do more to secure public trust and confidence in electoral outcomes. We ask consultees whether there should be a public interest petitioner with standing to bring election petitions in appropriate cases.
Timeline for reform
The deadline for consultation is 31 March 2015. After we have reviewed consultation responses we will formulate our recommendations, which we will publish in a report in autumn 2015. We intend to then produce a draft Bill or Bills to give effect to our final recommendations, and an accompanying final report. The aim will be to do so before the end of February 2017, in order to allow sufficient time for implementation before the scheduled general election in May 2020.
Please let us know what you think
Working on this project with our colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland, we aim to recommend reform that will simplify, modernise and rationalise the current law. Our consultation proposals are provisional and we encourage readers of this blog to give us their view.
Public Law team at the Law Commission