Legal Tea with B – Pupillage Reports and Electoral Law Reform

Welcome to my selection of interesting legal news and updates. Grab a teabag, some hot water and enjoy!

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5 Essex Court’s Feedback Report for the 2018 Pupillage Application Round is here! 

5 Essex Court’s application feedback reports are essential reading for anyone applying for pupillage. They explain how they assessed applicants at paper sift and interview during the last application round, including which were more or less successful and why.

Link here:

Electoral Law reform is on the agenda at 39 Essex Chambers

Alison Foster QC, Tom Tabori and Gethin Thomas of 39 Essex Chambers have written an article to make the case for urgent reform of electoral law in the United Kingdom. The article is available in the November issue of Counsel Magazine.

The title is ‘Electoral law: unfit for the 21st century?’ and within it the authors argue that there is ‘no excuse for legislative inaction in the face of so many attacks upon the democratic process to our democracy.’ They make it clear that there is absolutely no more room for complacency:

A robust and resilient electoral system is a cornerstone of a functioning democracy. A while ago, a picture of voter manipulation, covert pressure on the electorate, and misinformation in UK elections might suggest a 1750s scene from Hogarth’s ‘Humours of an Election’, not the description of a contemporary malaise. However, on 24 July 2018, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, following an inquiry that set out to examine only the phenomenon of fake news but felt compelled to investigate broader issues ‘concerning the very future of democracy’, issued the following interim conclusion: ‘Our democracy is at risk, and now is the time to act, to protect our shared values and the integrity of our democratic institutions’ (Disinformation and ‘fake news’, 24 July 2018, p 3).

Thanks to excellent legal commentary provided by Seth Abramson on Twitter, I’ve been paying close attention to suspicious events surrounding elections in the United States and United Kingdom (including the ‘Brexit’ referendum). Even before the launch of a Special Counsel investigation into Russian Election interference in the US in 2017 and the High Court’s finding that the Electoral Commission failed to challenge Vote Leave’s breaches of electoral spending laws in June 2018, I had seen the exercise of fair and free democracy in jeopardy all over the world.

The article made it clear that robust reform is needed now so that more radical reform can come later. The barrister I tagged in my retweet is  Jo Maugham QC who founded the Good Law Project, an organisation which “bring[s] strategic legal cases to change how the law works and to drive demand for further law change.” The subject of radical reform of electoral law got me thinking about his work to challenge unlawful spending during the ‘Brexit’ referendum with the Good Law Project.

Good Law Project v Electoral Commission [2018]

In June 2018, the High Court handed down judgment in Good Law Project v Electoral Commission [2018] EWHC 2414 (Admin). The Electoral Commission is the statutory body in charge of oversight of elections and referendums in the United Kingdom. The Good Law Project sought to challenge the Electoral Commission for failing to correctly interpret and apply the law on spending limitations by participants within the ‘Brexit’ referendum in 2018.

Lord Justice Leggatt gave the judgment of the court. In a nutshell, the court held that the Electoral Commission had failed to interpret and apply the relevant law due to a “a mistaken assumption that an individual or body which makes a donation to a permitted participant cannot thereby incur referendum expenses” (para. 94). I thoroughly recommend that you look further into the case and the parties to it.

With the Cambridge Analytica scandal that ‘broke’ this summer (those of us reading Seth Abramson’s Twitter threads were already aware of their role in US and UK elections), the judgment in Good Law Project and the recent demand by 50 MPs and peers for criminal investigation into Vote Leave’s breach of election law during the ‘Brexit’ referendum, the law surrounding elections is definitely an issue to keep an eye on.