Michael Greene v Lisa Forbes

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtQueen's Bench Division
JudgeRobin Knowles J,Mr Justice Robin Knowles CBE,Holgate J
Judgment Date20 Mar 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] EWHC 676 (QB)
Docket NumberPetition No P366/19

[2020] EWHC 676 (QB)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

DIVISIONAL COURT

and

THE ELECTION COURT

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Before:

Mr Justice Robin Knowles CBE

Mr Justice Holgate

Sitting as a Divisional Court and as the Election Court

Petition No P366/19

In the Matter of the Representation of the People Act 1983

And in the matter of a Parliamentary By-Election for the Peterborough Parliamentary Constituency held on 6 June 2019

Between:
Michael Greene
Petitioner
and
Lisa Forbes
Respondent

Francis Hoar (instructed by Wedlake Bell LLP) for the Petitioner

Gavin Millar QC and Sarah Sackman (instructed by Edwards Duthie Shamash) for the Respondent

Hearing date: 3 December 2019

Approved Judgment

I direct that pursuant to CPR PD39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic

Mr Justice Robin Knowles CBE Robin Knowles J

Introduction

1

On 6 June 2019 Ms Lisa Forbes, the Respondent, was declared elected to Parliament in the by-election for the Peterborough constituency. The Acting Returning Officer declared that she had received 10,484 votes.

2

Mr Michael Greene was a candidate in the by-election. The Acting Returning Officer declared that he had received 9,801 votes. On 26 June 2019 Mr Greene issued a parliamentary election petition (“the Petition”) seeking, among other things, that it may be determined that Ms Forbes was not duly elected, and that the by-election be declared invalid.

3

Various procedural stages followed. Ultimately, on 17 October 2019 Mr Greene applied to withdraw the Petition. His application accepted that he would pay the costs of the Petition.

4

Election petitions being a matter of public interest, withdrawal of a petition requires the permission of the Court (see section 147 of the Representation of the People Act 1983: “the 1983 Act”). Directions were given by the Court on 25 October 2019 for a substantive hearing of the application to withdraw to take place on 3 December 2019 before a Divisional Court of the High Court, and to ensure notice and advertisement of the application in accordance with the Election Rules in the meantime. In this connection, the application notice was amended on 18 November 2019.

5

On 5 November 2019 Her Majesty the Queen dissolved Parliament ahead of the General Election held on 12 December 2019.

6

On 6 November 2019 Mr Greene issued an application for a declaration that on the dissolution of Parliament the Petition and his application to withdraw “stood abated”. As a result, in contrast to his position on the application to withdraw (where he accepted that he would pay the costs of the Petition), he contends the court has no jurisdiction over the costs of the Petition and that security for those costs should be returned to him. He maintains the application to withdraw in the alternative.

7

On 3 December 2019 the Court heard argument on all matters. Given the compass of the applications the Court sat as an Election Court (see section 123 of the 1983 Act) and as a Divisional Court. Judgment was reserved.

The Petition

8

The Petition alleged, by paragraphs 5 and 6, as follows:

“5 That at the election the Respondent and/or her agents were guilty of:

(1) Electoral fraud in a variety of forms amounting to corrupt and/or illegal practices. These included, in particular:

(a) Personation contrary to ss 60–62 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (“the 1983 Act”);

(b) Applying for a postal or proxy vote as some other person (whether that other person is living or dead or is a fictitious person) contrary to s 62A(a) of the 1983 Act;

(c) Otherwise making a false statement in, or in connection with, an application for a postal or proxy vote, contrary to s 62A(b) of the 1983 Act;

(d) Inducing the registration officer or returning officer to send a postal ballot paper or any communication relation to a postal or proxy vote to an address which has not been agreed to by the person entitled to the vote, contrary to s 62A(c) of the 1983 Act;

(e) Causing a communication relating to a postal or proxy vote or containing a postal ballot paper not to be delivered to the intended recipient, contrary to s 62(d) of the 1983 Act;

(f) Casting votes, including postal votes, in the names of people not entitled to be on the electoral register, contrary to s 62A of the Representation of the People Act 1983;

(g) Making false statements in declarations or forms used for any of the purposes of Schedule 4 to the Representation of the People Act 2000 (“the 2000 Act”) for the purpose of obtaining postal or proxy votes, contrary to paragraph 8 of Schedule 4 to the 2000 Act;

(h) Attesting to applications under paragraph 3 or 4 to Schedule 4 to the 2000 Act when not authorised to do so or knowing that such application/s contain/s a statement which is false, contrary to paragraph 8 of Schedule 4 to the 2000 Act;

(i) Acquiring the voting papers of electors, including those issued to postal voters, marking votes for the Respondent on those papers and then casting the resulting fraudulent votes; and

(j) Tampering with ballot papers, contrary to s 65 of the 1983 Act;

(2) The corrupt practice of bribery, contrary to s 113 of the 1983 Act; and

(3) The corrupt practice of undue influence, contrary to s 115 of the 1983 Act.

6 Further or in the alternative, that there were corrupt and/or illegal practices for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of the Respondent at the election and the said corrupt and/or illegal practices so extensively prevailed that they may reasonably be supposed to have affected the result of the election.”

9

These are wide-ranging allegations, levelled against Ms Forbes and her agents. What was the evidence on which they were based?

10

Mr Greene's evidence was that:

(a) A person who had been convicted and imprisoned for electoral fraud in 2008 had attended a secure area of the count at the by-election “reserved for candidates, their ‘official’ election agent, their guests and their official observers”.

(b) Around 400 votes were rejected at the by-election (later clarified by Mr Greene — Ms Forbes disagrees — to be 372 postal votes disallowed on the basis of statements accompanying them containing an incorrect date of birth, an incorrect signature or no signature).

(c) Allegations had been made (but which Mr Greene did not attribute or particularise) that a large number of postal votes were delivered together, that some votes were photographed and that gifts or transport had been offered if individuals agreed to vote for a particular candidate.

11

Mr Greene has also served evidence to say he had never alleged that Ms Forbes was personally guilty of corrupt or illegal practices.

12

This evidence does not support the allegations made in the Petition against Ms Forbes personally. It does not support allegations made in the Petition against her agents, for example of tampering with ballot papers.

13

Mr Francis Hoar, for Mr Greene, explained that the reason why the Petition had been drafted with such wide-ranging allegations was because the statutory time limits (under sections 121 and 122 of the 1983 Act) were so short and that it was not realistic to expect that a petitioner would always be in a position to set out particulars in time.

14

The course taken was, with respect, not a satisfactory or permissible course. Allegations may only be made in an election petition where there is evidence to support them. This is not a question of degree of specificity or particularity, which was the subject of discussion by the Court in Erlam and Others v Rahman and Others [2015] 1 WLR 231 at [20] – [40]. It is a question of the entitlement to make the allegation at all. This is all the more important where the allegations are of misconduct or impropriety.

15

Even as regards particularity, rule 4(1)(d) of the Election Rules 1960 requires the petition to “set[] out with sufficient particularity the facts relied on but not the evidence by which they are to be proved”. In the present case the Petition did not do that. It is another unsatisfactory feature that no response was given on behalf of Mr Greene to a request for particulars made on behalf of Ms Forbes on 25 July 2019.

16

In support of his application for permission to withdraw the petition Mr Greene explained that for two reasons it “would not be proportionate for him to expend the very substantial sums it would be necessary to incur in prosecuting the Petition to its conclusion and to risk being ordered to pay in the event the Petition was unsuccessful.” One reason was the (then-anticipated, but now realised) general election. The other reason was “it has not been possible to establish to the high standard of proof required for an election petition to succeed, that corrupt and illegal practices were committed specifically by agents of [Ms Forbes] or that they so extensively prevailed as to affect the result of the Election”. For her part Ms Forbes has filed evidence that the person who had been convicted for electoral fraud was not involved in her campaign, and was not on the list of people that her campaign team provided to Peterborough City Council to be permitted to be given access to the count.

The dissolution of Parliament

17

In R (on the application of Miller) v The Prime Minister and Others [2019] UKSC 41; [2019] 3 WLR 589 at [4] the Supreme Court described the dissolution of Parliament as follows:

“The dissolution of Parliament brings the current Parliament to an end. Members of the House of Commons cease to be Members of Parliament. A general election is then held to elect a new House of Commons. The Government remains in office but there are conventional constraints on what it can do during that period. These days, dissolution is usually preceded by a short period of...

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