Law Commission: Consultation on Elections and Referendums

Bringing electoral law up to date

In a consultation opening today, the Law Commission is asking which of the rules governing elections and referendums should be reviewed as part of its electoral law reform project. Electoral law in the UK is spread across 25 major statutes. It has become increasingly complex and fragmented and, according to the Commission, needs to be simplified, modernised and rationalised in order to benefit the electorate, administrators, and candidates.

The last century has seen a steady increase in the numbers and types of election. Today, we may be asked to vote – at the same time – for a range of representatives. We could be casting votes for our local mayor, police and crime commissioner and councillors at the same time we are selecting our MP, MSP or Northern Ireland, Welsh or London AMs and our MEPs. Each of these election types comes with its own set of rules and systems, and combining them into one election event introduces yet more layers of electoral laws.

Public confidence in electoral administration needs to be reinforced. The Law Commission’s consultation is asking all those involved in setting up, managing, participating and voting in elections to tell them which areas of the legislative framework are not working and should be reviewed.

Frances Patterson QC, Law Commissioner, says:

“Elections are the principal mechanism by which citizens exercise their democratic rights. The price we pay as a democracy when the electoral process loses credibility is high and potentially catastrophic. An electorate that has no confidence in the process by which its democratic representatives are chosen may ultimately give no credence to the choices that are made. 

“It is clear that electoral law is in need of reform. Inconsistencies and ambiguities risk undermining the credibility of our electoral process; the sheer volume, fragmentation, and complexity of rules compound that risk. We are asking the questions, where in this vast and complex legislative framework do the problems lie? And should that framework be simplified and rationalised?”

The Commission expects that, with agreement from Government, responses to its consultation will lead to a detailed examination of specific aspects of electoral law and proposals for reform that will also be opened for consultation following the 2014 elections. The Commission hopes that the proposals and consultation will be UK wide, being conducted in partnership with the Scottish and Northern Ireland Law Commissions and in collaboration with the Welsh Assembly Government.

The Commission’s consultation paper, “Electoral Law in the United Kingdom”, and information on how to respond are available on