It’s easy to forget that elections in the UK, including those that we are all busy preparing for in May of this year, are underpinned by a complex legislative framework. From the administration of elections, to voter registration and challenging election results, each of the processes are governed by detailed rules contained in legislation.
Electoral legislation in the UK currently includes over 50 pieces of primary and over 170 pieces of secondary legislation, with the added complexity of different legislation applying to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It’s a mountain of different legislation that is difficult for anyone to navigate and understand. Also, much of the legislation has remained virtually unchanged since the nineteenth century. We think that the law should be much more accessible and reflective of how we live today.
This is why the Electoral Commission has been calling for the consolidation of electoral law since our Voting for Change report in 2003 and it is why, along with the AEA, we asked the Law Commissions to undertake a review of the law in 2010.
Now, amid all of the interest in the upcoming UK Parliamentary general election, we want to draw people’s attention to what is a very timely and important piece of work that is currently being carried out by the UK’s three Law Commissions’ in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
As you heard in last week’s blog from the Law Commission – they have published their initial proposals for how electoral law should be reformed and these are now open for consultation, meaning that anyone who is interested can add their own views on the proposals here.
Me and my colleagues at the Electoral Commission have been involved in this project since its beginning and we have been actively working with the Law Commissions throughout the project to help inform the process.
But now with the consultation phase in full swing, we are busy preparing our own response to the consultation, which we will present to the Law Commissions before the closing date of Tuesday 31 March.
This involves taking everything that we know about electoral law, and using our knowledge not just of the legislation itself but also of how elections work in practice, to make sure that we put forward recommendations which make things easier for voters and candidates to take part in the electoral process.
For example, we strongly agree with the Law Commissions’ proposals to bring together the currently voluminous law, reducing the numbers of Acts, Regulations and Orders. This would be the first and important step in the right direction, producing a more coherent and streamlined statutory framework. Currently there are different “election specific” sets of laws, which we believe create duplication and confusion where this isn’t necessary. This is an area where the review can make a real impact.
Secondly the law is highly prescriptive in areas where we would like to see greater flexibility, which would in turn lead to greater accessibility. One example would be the law governing election forms and notices where the law sets out in detail how these should be worded. This makes it particularly difficult to make any alterations in instances where the wording is found to be inadequate or inaccessible. We would propose that these detailed areas of the law should be moved further down the legal hierarchy from primary legislation to the level of guidance so that any required amendments would be easier to implement.
These are just a couple of examples of areas on which the Law Commission are asking for views. The full consultation and accompanying summary document show the full range of proposals.
So it is worth remembering that although other election related news will be dominating the headlines in the coming weeks, quietly supporting everything that we see going on around us during the elections period is electoral law and the Law Commissions’ review is an opportunity to make it better.
I hope that many of you will take the opportunity to add your views and respond to the consultation as this is a key opportunity to influence the shape of elections in the UK for the future.
Head of Legal