No legal action over lost postal votes

Campaigners for rights of Britons in France will not pursue legal action on behalf of those who were unable to vote in the recent European elections after receiving professional advice that it would be legally complex.

2 July 2019
By Oliver Rowland

British in Europe (BiE) had hoped to hold UK authorities to account over the problem of many Britons receiving postal ballots too late to take part, or not at all.

It comes as they prepare to visit Westminister tomorrow to address the MPs' Exiting the EU Select Committee about problems faced by Britons abroad in the EU, which you can watch live tomorrow at this link.

Together with the3million group for EU citizens living abroad in the UK BiE had crowdfunded €40,000 in 24-hours to investigate legal action both for the Britons and for EU citizens who were unable to vote in the European elections in the UK.

In the latter case many EU citizens were turned away from polling booths because of problems processing special forms in which they had to declare they were not also voting in their countries of origin.

British in Europe (BiE) said in a statement that the3million will now start legal proceedings against the UK government and are launching a new appeal, but BiE, regretfully, will not be able to do the same. 

They said the crowdfunded money had enabled the groups to research over 1,600 individual cases on both sides of the Channel and obtain expert advice.

The research confirmed that difficulties for Britons had been “widespread” and that “a great many people were unlawfully denied their right to vote”.

BiE added: “Together with the3million we consulted solicitors and had a meeting with a QC and junior counsel.

“Unfortunately our legal advice was that, although individuals who did everything correctly to be able to vote but were unable to do so may well have a claim against the authorities charged with administering the election in their constituencies, there are important differences between any claim brought against the government by, on the one hand, EU citizens deprived of a vote in the UK and, on the other, EU27-based UK citizens with similar experiences.

“As a result our claim would need to be brought against a number of separate public authorities and would be legally more difficult to win.

“We are really grateful to everyone who contributed hard-earned cash to enable us to investigate the claim but we would not want to ask you to contribute more to a claim which might well not succeed and which would expose the claimants to ricks of high legal costs in litigating against several public authorities.”

The group said however the survey evidence obtained and the legal analyses will be used to call on the European Commission to look into the problems and also to press for an inquiry to be held in the UK.

BiE will also make use of the evidence to call for changes in UK electoral law and Electoral Commission regulations, in view of the fact that such problems are recurrent at UK elections and referenda and “add insult to the injury of the 15-year rule” (the latter refers to the fact that Britons abroad for more than 15 years may not vote, a rule that recent UK governments have repeatedly promised to remove).

They have also asked their lawyers to write a short ‘do it yourself’ guide for anyone deprived of a vote who wishes to attempt their own claim against their UK council in the small claims court.

 Previous articles

 Groups take action on lost EU election votes [paywall/subscribers, The Connexion, July edition] 

 Legal action planned as ballots fail to turn up 

Low-cost post meant papers came too late [paywall/subscribers, The Connexion, June edition] 

UK postal ballots arrive late or not at all 

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