Darren Grimes Appeal – Electoral Commission in Disarray
Darren Grimes, a student who ran a youth campaign for the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, is appealing against the imposition of a £20,000 civil sanction by the Electoral Commission for alleged breaches of election law, and Saunders Law is acting for him. He challenges the Commission's findings and his detailed submissions on appeal, published with this statement, reject the Commission's findings as wrong in law, perverse, and made after a deeply unfair process.
The Commission investigated Darren after twice finding that he had not broken the law, but did not disclose key evidence to him, nor allow him an adequate opportunity to challenge evidence on which they relied. In Darren's appeal, the Court will hear that the Commission did not even understand the law on Unincorporated Associations on which it relied to find Darren guilty.
On Friday 14th September 2018, the High Court handed down judgment in a case in which the Good Law Project challenged the Commission's handling of the 2016 Brexit referendum. The narrow issue was whether the designated lead campaigner for the Leave outcome, Vote Leave Ltd, should have declared payments it made to an advertiser, AIQ, as an expense. The Court decided such a declaration by Vote Leave was legally required, even though the Commission had advised that it wasn't; the Commission even insisted it had not given the advice until the email in which it did was produced! The Court made no findings that Darren did anything wrong.
The judgment was however a devastating attack by Lord Justice Leggatt on the Electoral Commission's understanding of Electoral law, including comments such as:
"It is not easy to see how, on the Commission's case in these proceedings, its own guidance can be correct."
"Ultimately, the position of the Electoral Commission on what amounts to an "expense incurred" within the meaning of section 111 of PPERA appeared to offer little improvement on the well known elephant test of "I know one when I see one". That is not a satisfactory approach in circumstances where a person who reports referendum expenses incorrectly is potentially guilty of a criminal offence."
The Times wrote on 15th September:
"The Electoral Commission misinterpreted election law in the run-up to the Brexit vote, the High Court ruled yesterday, raising questions about the judgment of the watchdog."
The Sunday Telegraph editorial of 16th August was equally devastating:
"It is now clear that the Electoral Commission, the quango in charge of monitoring the EU referendum, failed in its most elementary purpose. It told the official Leave campaign that a certain type of donation would be perfectly permissible. Yet it subsequently denied giving this advice and fined both Vote Leave and an individual activist. Last week, the High Court ruled that the Commission had provided advice that was inaccurate. Given that Vote Leave, understandably, believed it was operating according to the rules, why have the fines not been rescinded? How could the public still have confidence in the Commission given this charade?"
Labour peer Lord Adonis said: "It sounds to me as if the Electoral Commission has not been doing its job properly. On the face of it, it seems to have been extremely incompetent." He told the BBC's Politics Live programme that "we need a rather more fit and proper body ".
In the face of such withering comment is the Electoral Commission contrite? Does it want to make amends? Quite the contrary. It's Chief Executive Claire Bassett wants to tough it out and has brought in Field Fisher (City Solicitors) and Sir James Eadie QC to try and rescue it at vast public expense.
We do not know exactly what Sir James is to be paid for opposing Darren's appeal, but a clue may be found in his remuneration returns for the last year which show he was paid £2.2million just for his work for the Government. We trust the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to whom the Commission report, share the numbers with those who have so generously supported Darren's appeal through Crowd Funding and the general public whose money the Commission is so freely spending.
Of course for Darren the case is not just about money, although for the record he doesn't have £20,000 to pay the fine. It's about his integrity and whether we should be encouraging young people to take part in politics.
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