Statement by Saunders Law on behalf of Darren Grimes concerning the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee (DCMS) report published 29th July 2018
DCMS has seen fit to publish a report suggesting our client Darren Grimes is guilty of offences, before his case has been heard by a Court, referring to'evidence of Russian state-sponsored attempts to influence elections in the US and the UK through social media, of the efforts of private companies to do the same, and of law-breaking by certain Leave campaign groups in the UK's EU Referendum in their use of social media.'
DCMS warns 'Our democracy is at risk, and now is the time to act, to protect our shared values and the integrity of our democratic institutions.'
As a practical expression of this call to arms, DCMS recommends that the Electoral Commission's current maximum fine limit of £20,000 should be 'changed to a larger fine based on a fixed percentage of turnover, such as has been granted recently to the Information Commissioner's Office in the Data Protection Act.'
The Electoral Commission is currently responsible for regulating and enforcing the rules that govern political campaign finance in the UK. Putting aside that a campaigner such as Mr Grimes does not have any turnover, or indeed the funds to pay a £20,000 fine, the idea that democracy will be enhanced by giving more power to the Electoral Commission is seriously misplaced, as it is not even fit for its present purpose.
There is a certain irony in DCMS praying democracy in aid. It is fundamental to our democratic British constitution that there is a separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, and in fining Mr Grimes £20,000 for an alleged offence, the Electoral Commission is undoubtedly exercising a judicial function. DCMS is self evidently part of the legislature. That judicial functions should be independent of the other branches of government, has been recognised as part of our constitution since Professor A. V. Dicey, a leading constitutional scholar published his Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution in 1885.
In fact the Electoral Commission is accountable and subservient to DCMS, and the separation of powers required between Parliament and Judiciary is absent. Behind the scenes, DCMS directs the Electoral Commission, which then feeds evidence back to DCMS to put in a report, which is in turn presented as original thinking!
The irony is not just academic. The Electoral Commission has shown itself to be unfit fit to exercise a judicial function in Mr Grimes' case.
Independence & Transparency
- Aside from having private meetings with the legislature, the Electoral Commission has met in secret with witnesses and placed reliance on their untested, undisclosed evidence in Mr Grimes' case; even their written statements have been redacted or withheld.
- It has admitted evidence such as the Matrix Chambers opinion, to guide it as to how to do its job. The Matrix opinion places reliance on partial, anonymous, untested 'whistleblowing' and was commissioned to support a political position, hostile to Mr Grimes.
- The Electoral Commission has twice exonerated Mr Grimes, before being prevailed on by interested parties to change its mind. A body fit for judicial responsibility must have a better understanding of issue finality, and a more robust character so as not to give in to political pressure.
- Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights lays down minimum standards of fairness for trials such as that of Mr Grimes; these standards include knowing the charge and evidence being faced, have not been met.
- Mr Grimes has not been provided with the all evidence on which EC has relied against him, despite repeated requests for it. It has taken witness evidence and exhibits secretly and not disclosed them to him. It has uncritically accepted 'whistleblowing' evidence that must be wrong on any view.
- The Electoral Commission has breached an explicit undertaking to Saunders Law to provide the transcript of an interview under caution Mr Grimes voluntarily gave and it recorded. He is criticised by the Electoral Commission for not providing information in the interview but the transcript if disclosed would show him to have answered all the questions asked.His treatment is an abuse of process by the Electoral Commission. Any solicitor breaching such a professional undertaking would be sanctioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, but the Electoral Commission interviewer apparently has no such qualifications, so is not subject to proper professional discipline.
- Mr Grimes has twice been cleared by the Electoral Commission of wrongful conduct but is now sanctioned on allegedly fresh evidence. The Electoral Commission was asked at Mr Grimes' interview for disclosure of any fresh evidence and produced none.
- In essence, the new charge alleges that Mr Grimes ticked the wrong box on a complex, contradictory, and confusing form that the Electoral Commission drafted. It is not admitted that he did, but the same matter was looked at by Electoral Commission in 2016 when it saw no reason to take such action, and is not entitled to just change its mind.
- The Electoral Commission demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of the law it purports to enforce. Its decision against Mr Grimes is based on an erroneous analysis of Unincorporated Associations, apparently believing that they have a Board, when that concept only applies to Incorporated bodies.
- In fining Mr Grimes £20,000, the Electoral Commission takes a disproportionate and irrational view of sentence. Whilst explicitly finding several matters of mitigation, it has taken no account of them and fined Mr Grimes the statutory maximum. Such a failure to act proportionately or judicially, fatally undermines any proposal to increase its powers.
The DCMS report is prejudicial to Mr Grimes and the legal proceedings he faces, but is protected by Parliamentary privilege. Mr Grimes will place his trust in due process before a proper Court.
Crowd Justice: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/darrengrimes/