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High Court to hear second challenge to blind voters’ provisions

A second judicial review hearing in respect of the voting provisions for blind and partially sighted people, brought by Rachael Andrews, will be heard in the High Court on Tuesday 15 and Wednesday 16 June 2021.

Rachael Andrews is arguing that the arrangements in place for the December 2019 general election were unlawful because she could not vote independently and in secret, an experience shared by 87% of blind voters according to the RNIB’s 2019 Turned Out report. Disappointingly, the arrangements have remained unaltered following her first legal challenge to the voting provisions for blind and partially sighted people, which were ruled unlawful in May 2019.

Ms Andrews is asking that the court makes a declaration that the arrangements for blind and partially sighted voters in the December 2019 general election were unlawful. She is also asking that the court makes a declaration that the inadequacy of those arrangements breached her human rights, and the rights of blind voters in general, under Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights read with Article 3 of the First Protocol, which protects her right to a secret ballot without discrimination. She is seeking damages and a declaration that her (and other blind and partially sighted voters) human rights were breached.

In the May 2019 ruling by the High Court the judge described the existing arrangements for blind and partially sighted voters as “a parody of the electoral process”.

Since the ruling, the December 2019 general election and the 2021 local elections have taken place, with no new measures for blind and partially sighted people put in place. Leigh Day sent pre-action correspondence to the Cabinet Office, on Ms Andrews’ behalf, after the first judgment, with no adequate response.

Currently the government specify the use of a Tactile Voting Device (TVD), a sheet of transparent plastic which fits on top of the ballot paper and has a number of flaps that correspond to the various places on the ballot paper where voters are able to mark an ‘X’ next to candidates’ names.

Ms Andrews successfully argued in her first legal case that the critical problem with the TVD is that it does not allow blind and partially sighted people to vote independently as they still need help from the Presiding Officer (the official in charge of the polling station) or a member of their close family to read to them the names of the candidates and the order in which they appear on the ballot paper. This information is not contained on the TVD and there is therefore no way for a blind voter to know which flap on the TVD corresponds to which candidate.

The government has now said that legislative change is unlikely to take place until the 2023 elections, four years after the 2019 judgment.

Ms Andrews said:

“It is appalling that I am having to bring a second legal case in the hope that the government will remedy their unlawful voting provisions and give blind and partially sighted people the ability to vote in secret, as is their right. The government have dragged their heels on this for way too long – it cannot be right that those with visual impairments should have to go through any more elections without the proper provisions in place.”

Kate Egerton, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, added:

“Since the ruling in our client’s case she has had to go through two further elections without the provisions in place for her to cast her ballot independently and in secret. Other countries around the world are able to provide accessible provisions to allow blind and partially sighted people to do this – it is time that this government takes equality more seriously.”

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Kate Egerton

Kate Egerton is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.