Fox v Stirk and Bristol Electoral Registration Officer

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date12 May 1970
Judgment citation (vLex)[1970] EWCA Civ J0512-1
Date12 May 1970
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Jullan Fox
Peter Laurence Stirk and the Electoral Registration Officer For The City and County of Bristol
Hugh Nelson Ricketts
The Registration Officer for the City of Cambridge

[1970] EWCA Civ J0512-1


The Master of the Rolls

(Lord Denning)

Lord Justice Widgery

Lord Justice Karminski

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

MR. QUENTIN T. EDWARDS, instructed by Messrs. Adams, Brown & Co., (Bristol), appeared for the Appellant Julian Fox (Appellant).

MR. LEONARD J. BROMLEY, instructed by Messrs. Vintners (Cambridge), appeared for the Appellant Hugh Nelson Ricketts (Appellant).

MR. N. C. BROWNE-WILKINSON, instructed by Messrs. Robins, Hay, Long & Gardiner appeared for Mr. W. J. Hutchinson, Electoral Registration Officer, Bristol.

MR. MICHAEL B. McMULLAN, instructed by Messrs. Sharpe, Pritchard & Co., appeared for Mr. J. Elven, Electoral Registration Officer. Cambridge.


Some students at our universities claim to be placed upon the register of electors. They all are over eighteen years of age and are British subjects. So if they satisfy the requirement as to "residence" they are entitled to be on the register.


The Representation of the People Act, 1949, in Section 1(1) says that "the persons entitled to vote as electors at a Parliamentary Election in any Constituency shall be those who are resident there on the qualifying date". The Act recognises that a person may be resident in more than one place on the qualifying date, and may be on the register for more than one constituency: but it is emphatic that at a General Election no person can vote as an elector in more than one Constituency.


The "qualifying date" is given by the Electoral Registers Act, 1949, as amended by the Electoral Registers Act, 1953. It is the tenth day of October in any year. If a person is on the register, as being qualified on that date, he can vote at the polls within a period of twelve months of the sixteenth day of February in the following year.


Some of these students come from the University of Bristol, the others from the University of Cambridge. They were in their halls of residence or in their colleges on 10th October, 1969. The question is whether they were "resident" there on the qualifying date.


The electoral officers and the judges have considered these cases most carefully and given most helpful opinions on them, but have come to very different conclusions. The electoral officer at Bristol held that none of the students is entitled to be on the register there. The electoral officer at Cambridge held that scholars and exhibitioners are entitled to be on the register: that commoners are not entitled to be on the register if their parental home is in England, but are entitled if their parental home is notin England. The electoral officer at Norwich held that all students there are entitled to be on the register. This shows that there is much room for discussion.


The statute tries to give guidance on the point. Section 4, sub-section (1) says: "Any question as to a person's residence on the qualifying date for an election shall be determined in accordance with the general principles formerly applied in determining questions arising under the Representation of the Epopee Act, 1918, as to a person's residence on a particular day of the qualifying period, and, in particular, regard shall be had to the purpose and other circumstances, as well as to the fact, of his presence at or absence from the address in question". But that section does not help much, because there are no cases reported under the Representation of the People Act, 1918. The only cases reported on the subject were in the middle of the last century under the previous Acts. They can, however, be looked at.


There is one case which much influenced the Judges below. It is Tanner v. Carter in 1885, reported in 16 Queen's Bench Division at page 231, when it was held that "Students in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, who occupy rooms in their colleges under regulations which do not allow them to reside in or visit their rooms during the vacations without the express permission of the college authorities, are not entitled to be registered as voters". The Judges below treated that case as establishing this general principle: A student has not the right to be on the register unless he has a right to occupy his rooms at all times throughout the year. Applying that principle, they found these students at Bristol and Cambridge have a right to occupy their rooms for only some twenty-six or thirty weeks in a year. They have no right to occupy their rooms in the vacations, except with the permission of theauthorities. In any case they have no, right to occupy their rooms for six weeks in a year, namely, a week at Christmas, a week at Easter and four weeks in the summer; and no permission will be given for those six weeks at all. On this account the Judges held that the students were not resident.


I may say, in parenthesis, that although the students were only entitled and "bound to be in their rooms for the period of the academic term, twenty-six or thirty weeks, nevertheless, in practice many of them stay there a great deal longer, especially the science students, who have to work in a laboratory. They must stay up for their studies.


I think the Judges were in error in placing so much weight on Tanner v. Carter. That case was decided under the Representation of the People Act, 1867, which said in that Section 3(2) that in order to qualify a man had to be " during the whole of the preceding twelve calendar months an inhabitant occupier, as owner or tenant, of any dwelling-house within the Borough", Tanner v. Carter was rightly decided under that statute. It has no application whatever to the present statute in which there is no qualifying period but only a qualifying date, namely, one day in a year, 10th October. "I reject altogether the test of whether the students had a right to their rooms throughout the year.


I prefer to go by the ordinary meaning of the word "resident". I follow Lord Cave, the Lord Chancellor, in Levene v. Inland Revenue Commissioners, in 1928 Appeal Cases, page 222, where he said: "The word 'reside' is a familiar English word and is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as meaning 'to dwell permanently or for a considerable time, to have one's settled or usual abode, to live in or at a particular place".


I would also take into account, as the statute says, the general principles formerly applied and have regard to the purpose and other circumstances of his presence at or absencefrom the address. Hence I derive three principles. The first principle is that a man can have two residences. He can have a flat in London and a house in the country. He is resident in both. The second principle is that temporary presence at an address does not make a man a resident there. A guest who comes for the weekend is not resident. A short- stay visitor is not resident. The third principle is that temporary absence does not deprive a person of his residence. If he happens to be away for a holiday or away for the weekend or in hospital, he does not lose his residence on that account.


Applying these principles, I do not think these students are disqualified simply because their parental home is in England. They may be resident at their homes, but they may also be resident in Bristol or Cambridge, I would deplore any test by which a student is disqualified according to whether his parental home was in England or overseas. People who have houses or flats in London and houses in the country can be on the register for both, because they are resident in both, but they can only vote at one. So also with students: they can be on the register for their homes and for their university towns, but they can only vote in one.


I think that a person may properly be said to be "resident" in a place when his stay there has a considerable degree of permanence. So I would apply the simple test: Was there on 10th October, 1969, a considerable degree of permanence in the stay of these students in Bristol or Cambridge? I think there was. They were living there and sleeping there. They were there for at least half the year - as a minimum. Many of them were there for much more, especially the science students, because they have to work in the vacations in the laboratories. There was certainly a sufficient degree of permanence to make them "resident" inBristol or Cambridge, as the case may be.


During the course of the argument I put the instance of the young man or young woman who is not actually in college, but in lodgings. The same applies to them. I have no doubt that the landlady filling in the form would fill it in for them in the...

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