Anthony Fairclough: Countdown to the Election: Matrix briefing on freedom of expression at elections

MATRIX ChambersIt’s trite to say, but we are just weeks away from the most important General Election in a generation – especially for those interested in election law. The culture of fighting elections – and the public’s role within that – has changed in recent years owing to new technology. There is now also new (and untested) legislation restricting the actions of professional third party campaigners.

Historically, the regulation of elections was largely based around the idea that candidates and their parties had the monopoly on campaign means and methods – and so can and should be held accountable for the actions of their supporters. However, it’s never been easier for people to campaign publicly for or against a party or candidate, or to set up their own pressure group, easily co-ordinated through social media and online. For a long time now, anyone with a computer and printer has been in a position to publish hundreds of leaflets cheaply and privately.

Alongside this, as trust in politicians has dipped, third party endorsements have become more and more important to candidates – whether from celebrities, NGOs, or voters’ friends and neighbours – parties are doing what they can to encourage their supporters to take up the war of words directly.  So, over the next 6 weeks, Matrix will be looking at the vital issue of freedom of expression at election time in more detail as part of Matrix’s Countdown to the election briefings. These will be sent out each Friday by email and published on our election law practice area page.

The six briefings on a series of topics are: (1) the protection of political expression; (2) lobbying and third-party campaigning; (3) election offences; (4) coverage of election campaigns; (5) party political broadcasts; and (6) defamation and privacy.

In the first edition, Antony White QC and Anthony Hudson QC will be looking at freedom of speech & article 10: the protection of political expression – you can find the full briefing here.

Hopefully this week’s briefing will be useful; next week’s briefing will look at lobbying and third party campaigning. Please get in touch if you have comments, questions, or if you or anyone else would like to receive these briefings.

Matrix’s barristers have strong expertise in the specialist field of election law, where their overlapping and intersecting expertise in public law, human rights and criminal law is reflected.

Anthony Fairclough is head of Matrix’s legal information and research team and is an editor of and contributor to the UK Supreme Court Blog. He is on Twitter at @AJ_Fairclough.

(Suggested citation: A. Fairclough,  ‘Countdown to the Election: Matrix briefing on freedom of expression at elections’, UK Const. L. Blog (30th March 2015) (available at