William Eichler 17 March 2020

Victorian-era electoral laws to be made ‘fit for 21st century’

The law commissions of England, Wales and Scotland have announced a series of reforms intended to ‘simplify, clarify, and improve electoral law’.

Electoral law in the UK is currently spread across 25 major statutes and has become increasingly complex and fragmented.

The reforms, published today by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission, aim to rationalise and improve the laws and make them ‘fit for purpose in the 21st Century.’

The laws governing elections should be made into a single, consistent legislative framework with consistent electoral laws across all elections, except where there are clear and necessary differences, for example due to different voting systems, the law commissions say.

The reforms will also change the conditions required for suspending polls.

Polling currently can only be suspended by a presiding officer in response to rioting and open violence but the law commission’s recommendations would allow for any incident where a significant portion of electors are affected and unable to vote, including flooding and adverse weather or an act of terrorism.

The recommendations also include the introduction of just one single set of nomination papers for candidates and digital imprints for online campaign material. They will also lead to a simplification of the process for challenging election results.

Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner at the Law Commission of England and Wales said: 'Elections are fundamental to democracy yet the laws governing them are no longer fit for purpose. If left as they are, there is a very real risk of the electoral process losing credibility which could be catastrophic.

'Our reforms will simplify, modernise and rationalise the law. This will make it easier to amend legislation so elections are able to overcome future challenges, and help to maintain confidence in the electoral system.'

Lady Paton, chair of the Scottish Law Commission, said: 'For both Scotland and the wider UK, it’s vital that the law on elections is easy to administer, accessible and user-friendly.

'These reforms will achieve this, ensuring elections work and are fit for the 21st century. Our recommendations also take into account the emerging devolutionary framework for Scotland.'

Sir John Holmes, chair of the Electoral Commission, said: 'The Electoral Commission has worked closely in support of the Law Commissions, and welcomes this final report.

'Without clear and up-to-date electoral laws, there is a risk to the effective delivery of elections, and the confidence of electors in the process can be undermined. The Law Commissions’ recommendations are comprehensive and have widespread support from electoral administrators, political parties and campaigners.

'I very much hope the UK’s governments and parliaments will now work towards a consolidated and consistent legislative framework that will improve our electoral processes for all involved.'

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