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Neil Coughlan

Court of Appeal to hear voter ID pilot scheme legal challenge

Essex man Neil Coughlan is continuing his legal campaign against the Government's pilot schemes to require voter ID at the polling station. His case will be heard by three senior judges at the Court of Appeal on Thursday, April 23 by video link.

Posted on 21 April 2020

Mr Coughlan, 66, of Witham, Essex, will challenge last year’s High Court ruling that the voter ID schemes run in 10 local authority areas were lawful. The Government wishes to introduce voter ID to prevent voter impersonation in polling stations (when someone is pretending to be somebody else in order to cast one fake vote). However, the evidence suggests that this kind of fraud is rare and in 2017 there were 28 allegations of impersonation out of nearly 45 million votes cast. This reflects 1 case for every 1.6 million votes cast. Of those 28 allegations, 1 case resulted in a conviction.
In its judgment the High Court found that although Mr Coughlan’s case for Judicial Review was arguable, the power under s.10 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 permitting experimental changes to “…how voting at the election is to take place” is wide enough to encompass adding a requirement that individuals  produce ID before being able to vote.
In his appeal Mr Coughlan argues that the pilots trialling voter ID in the local elections last year were unlawful as the Minister went beyond the powers conferred on him by Parliament. The appeal is focused on the  understanding of the word ‘how’. Represented by Leigh Day solicitors, he will argue that ‘how’ voting takes place, according to the dictionary definition, means the physical process, manner or means by which electors communicate their vote and does not mean changing an elector’s entitlement to vote by making them prove their identity.
Mr Coughlan says a scheme which introduces additional voter eligibility restrictions as a means to counter electoral fraud does not fall within the powers of Ministerial Orders and could only be introduced by an Act of Parliament with all the parliamentary scrutiny that entails.
His case is that the pilot schemes run in last year’s May elections are not about “when, where and how voting at the elections is to take place” but about whether a person gets to vote at all. He will argue that a demand for ID such as a passport, driving licence or utility bill at the polling station ‘frustrates the facilitation and encouragement to vote’.
If the voter ID requirements come into force across the country in local elections, Mr Coughlan argues that the consequence for local democracy will be far reaching and may affect millions of voters in every part of the country, which he believes Parliament cannot have intended without proper debate and scrutiny.
Mr Coughlan has launched a fundraising campaign for the case via CrowdJustice
He said:
“Hundreds of individuals were denied their vote in last year’s local elections because of these voter ID pilots and I am determined to persevere with my case arguing that the pilots were unlawful as they needed an Act of Parliament to be introduced.  
As the Government moves to bring forward legislation to introduce voter ID requirements nationally at General Elections it is all the more important to establish whether these pilots were lawful. 
It is time for a full and frank discussion of the dangers of Voter ID.  As the Windrush scandal showed many British citizens do not have official documentation and in fact some 7.5% of the electorate do not possess photo ID.  Requiring individuals to produce identity documents is going to deprive legitimate members of the electorate of the vote and I believe it will disproportionately affect the poor and marginalised members of our society.”
Leigh Day solicitor Tessa Gregory said:
“Mr Coughlan contends that by giving Ministers the power to make changes as to how voting takes place, Parliament cannot have intended them to disenfranchise those voters who cannot produce the correct form of ID at the polling station.
“In his legal case he argues that restricting people’s right to vote in local elections by requiring them to produce ID is an important constitutional matter that has to be expressly authorised by Parliament.”