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The High Court has dismissed a challenge to the arrangements for blind and partially-sighted persons to vote without assistance at the general election in December 2019.

The Representation of the People Act 1983 includes provision for “a device of such description which may be prescribed for enabling voters who are blind or partially-sighted to vote without any need for assistance from the presiding officer or any companion …”. The device prescribed in Regulations is a ‘tactile voting device’ – a sheet of plastic with raised numbers and flaps, which sits on top of the ballot paper. In May 2019, the Claimant successfully challenged the Regulations prescribing that device, on the basis that they did not allow the voter to vote “without any need for assistance” (because the voter required assistance to know the position of the candidates on the ballot paper), but the Regulations were not quashed.

By the time of the early general election in December 2019, no legislative change had been effected in light of the Court’s judgment. The Claimant challenged the arrangements at that election; she sought a declaration of unlawfulness and also claimed that her Convention rights had been breached under Article 3 Protocol 1 (which provides for free elections by secret ballot) (“A3P1”), and Article 14 (discrimination) read with A3P1 ECHR.

The High Court dismissed the challenge. Swift J held that a further declaration would not serve any further purpose. The Court also dismissed the Convention rights challenge. The legislative regime already made provision for secrecy of the ballot for the purposes of A3P1. Further, there was no relevant ‘act’ for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998, because the challenge was to a failure to introduce a proposal for secondary legislation, which is excluded by section 6(6) of that Act. The Court also held that there was no discrimination contrary to article 14 ECHR, alternatively the situation in December 2019 was justified.

The full judgment can be read here.

Hanif Mussa and Daniel Cashman acted for the Minister for the Cabinet Office.

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