Electoral Law Reform | Northern Ireland Law Commission
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Electoral Law Reform

The Project aims to simplify and modernise electoral administration law which has become complex and unwieldy and has given rise to inconsistencies and unjustifiable differences in practice between different elections and different parts of the UK. The scope of the Project is limited to technical aspects of electoral law governing the administration of elections and will not include issues such as the voting system, who can vote etc.

Electoral law is not a devolved matter. The Northern Ireland Assembly has no legislative competence in respect of elections. Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 elections to the UK Parliament, including the franchise specifically, European Parliamentary elections, elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and local government (district council) elections are all excepted matters. The Northern Ireland Minister of Justice consulted with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, (as required under section 51(3) and section 51(3A) of the Justice Act 2002) before granting approval to the Northern Ireland Law Commission to include this project in its Second Programme on 15 November 2012.

Owing to the subject nature, any review of the law on elections and referendums must be UK-wide. The project is being led by the Law Commission (England and Wales) supported by the Northern Ireland Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission. The Northern Ireland Law Commission is working closely with its sister law reform bodies to ensure that Northern Ireland issues and interests are fully represented in any proposals for reform.

This project is split into three phases, with review points between phases. The first phase was the scoping exercise. The publication of the scoping report in December 2012 marked the end of this phase. The second phase involved formulating law reform proposals. A joint interim report was published on 4 February 2016. It recommended that the process for challenging elections should be modernised, making it easier for parties to understand and use, and that judges be given the power, in appropriate cases, to limit the potential costs for challenges. It also recommended that existing electoral offences should be updated and made easier for the electorate, officials and prosecutors to understand, and that the maximum sentence for serious electoral offences be increased to ten years. The response of the Government is awaited before a decision will be reached on whether to pursue a full law reform project.

Further details can be obtained from the Law Commissioner for England and Wales:

Law Commission
1st Floor, Tower
52 Queen Anne’s Gate

Tel: 020 3334 3599 / Fax: 020 3334 0201

By email to: commercialandcommon@lawcommission.gsi.gov.uk

Related documents
A Joint Consultation Paper: Electoral Law (opens new window)

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