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Supreme Court Grants Permission to Hear Challenge to Voter ID Plans

The Supreme Court has granted permission to the Appellant in R (on the application of Coughlan) v Minister for the Cabinet Office in his challenge to the pilots of the Government’s plans to introduce voter ID requirements in all elections. 

The Appellant is a voter in Braintree, one of the authorities where voter ID requirements were piloted in local elections in 2019. Monitoring by the Electoral Commission shows that the requirement to produce Voter ID led to hundreds of electors being turned away from the ballot box. 

The Appellant argues the pilots were ultra vires s.10 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 on the basis that

(a)    the Act makes provision for the Minister to run pilots testing “how voting is to take place” whereas ID pilots concern “who” or “whether someone” is entitled to vote rather than “how” they vote.
(b)    the purpose of the piloting power was to test electoral reforms which “facilitate and encourage voting” whereas the ID schemes inevitably has the opposite effect and makes voting more difficult.

The Court of Appeal concluded that that the piloting power was a broad one and that “how” voting is to take place can encompass procedures for demonstrating an entitlement to vote. The Government argues that the measures will improve confidence in the voting system and thereby encourage voting. 

It is estimated that 3.5 million voters in the UK do not hold photographic ID (such as a passport or drivers’ licence). Concerns have been voiced by a number of civil society groups that the policy will likely disenfranchise vulnerable and marginalised groups who are already least likely to vote. Stonewall, the Runneymede Trust, Operation Black Vote and Ubele have been granted permission to intervene.

Sarah Sackman acts for the Appellant alongside Anthony Peto QC and Natasha Simonsen of Blackstone Chambers. Sarah is instructed by Leigh Day solicitors.