In a judgment handed down today, the Court of Appeal has dismissed a claim by Vote Leave, the designated lead campaigner for the "leave" outcome in the 2016 EU referendum, against the decision of the Electoral Commission to publish a report of its investigation into suspected breaches of electoral legislation.
Following an investigation into payments made to a Canadian data analytics firm called Aggregate IQ for campaign services during the referendum campaign, on 17 July 2018 the Commission published a report giving an account of its investigation and its findings (“the Report”).
By its claim, Vote Leave argued that the Commission had no power to publish such a Report.
The Court unanimously dismissed this argument, concluding that the publication of the Report was incidental to the Commission’s enforcement functions under Part X of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 ("PPERA"). The Vice-President of the Court, Underhill LJ, emphasised that “[t]here is an important public interest in public bodies with an investigatory function being as open as possible about inquiries which they have conducted […]” (at ), and that this was “particularly important in the case of investigations carried out by the Electoral Commission, both because of the centrality of its functions to our democracy and because they may, as here, result in findings that criminal offences have been committed […]” (see also Singh LJ at ).
In particular, the Court held that (i) given the Report’s coverage of a number of investigations “there is obvious value in a single report covering the same ground in a comprehensive and comprehensible way” (at ) and (ii) publication of the Report was not a “distinct sanction falling outside the scheme provided for by the Act” (at ). Rather, it was an explanation of the basis for the Commission’s decision to impose a sanction on Vote Leave.
Singh LJ, in a concurring opinion, also stated that the concept of ‘monitoring’ compliance with the requirements of electoral legislation was wide enough to include “acts of investigation and scrutiny which take place afterwards and not only contemporaneously” to an election or referendum (at ).
The full judgment can be read here.
Ravi Mehta acted for the successful Respondent, the Electoral Commission.