R (on the application of James Alistair Preston) v The Lord President of the Council

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeLord Justice Elias,Mr Justice King
Judgment Date01 December 2011
Neutral Citation[2011] EWHC 3174 (Admin)
CourtQueen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
Date01 December 2011
Docket NumberCase No: CO/3344/2010

[2011] EWHC 3174 (Admin)




Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL


Lord Justice Elias

Mr Justice King

Case No: CO/3344/2010

The Queen on the Application of James Alistair Preston
(1) Wandsworth Borough Council
(2) Lord President of the Council

Mr Romano Subiotto QC and Mr Paul Stuart (instructed by Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton LLP) for the Claimant

Mr Jason Coppel (instructed by The Treasury Solicitor) for the Second Defendant

Hearing date: 8 November 2011

Lord Justice Elias

The claimant is a long term resident of Spain. He lives with his wife in Madrid, having established a business there, and he retains his British passport. He challenges by way of judicial review section 1(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1985 ("the 1985 Act") which he seeks to disapply pursuant to directly effective EU law rights. That provision extended the franchise in a general election. As now amended, it enables a voter to leave the UK and reside overseas and nonetheless retain the right to vote in a general election for a period of 15 years after ceasing to be resident in the UK. After that period of time has elapsed, he is disenfranchised ("the 15 year rule"). The claimant submits that he has a directly effective right under EU law to move to and reside in other member states and that the 15 year rule operates unjustifiably to interfere with the exercise of that right.


Section 1(1)(a) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 establishes as the basic rule that for a general election the electorate consists of persons over eighteen, not otherwise disqualified, who are Commonwealth citizens or citizens of the Republic of Ireland and are registered to vote in a constituency. Section 4(1) provides that they are entitled to register in the constituency if they are resident there. Section 1 of the 1985 Act extended the franchise to overseas electors. It provides, so far as material:

"1.—Extension of parliamentary franchise.

(1) A person is entitled to vote as an elector at a parliamentary election in any constituency if–

(a) he qualifies as an overseas elector in respect of that constituency on the date on which he makes a declaration under and in accordance with section 2 of this Act ("the relevant date");

(b) on that date and on the date of the poll–

(i) he is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote, and

(ii) he is a British citizen; and

(c) on the date of the poll he is registered in a register of parliamentary electors for that constituency.

(2) For the purposes of this Act and the principal Act a person qualifies as an overseas elector in respect of a constituency on the relevant date if–

(a) on that date he is not resident in the United Kingdom, and

(b) he satisfies one of the following sets of conditions.

(3) The first set of conditions is that–

(a) he was included in a register of parliamentary electors in respect of an address at a place that is situated within the constituency concerned,

(b) that entry in the register was made on the basis that he was resident, or to be treated for the purposes of registration as resident, at that address,

(c) that entry in the register was in force at any time falling within the period of 15 years ending immediately before the relevant date, and

(d) subsequent to that entry ceasing to have effect no entry was made in any register of parliamentary electors on the basis that he was resident, or to be treated for the purposes of registration as resident, at any other address."


A second set of conditions, in Section 1(4) RPA, applies that same principle to persons who were under-age and so could not be registered to vote on the day on which they were last resident in the UK.


A person who takes up residence abroad, satisfies the 15 year rule and applies to be registered, will be placed on the "overseas electors list". Once included on this list, he will be entitled to vote in any elections to the UK Parliament or the European Parliament, but not in UK local elections or in elections to the devolved assemblies. He may exercise the right to vote either by appointing a proxy to vote for him or by exercising a postal vote.


Section 14 of the Representation of the People Act 1983provided certain exceptions to the 15 year rule. These include members of the armed forces and servants of the Crown and certain family members who have moved with them. The principle linking these exceptions is that they are all persons who have been sent abroad at the behest of the Crown or (as in the case of British Council employees) in order to promote the interests of the United Kingdom.


The extension of the Parliamentary franchise to non-residents has been controversial and has been debated in Parliament on a number of occasions. Originally the 1985 Act itself fixed the period at five years. This was later extended to 20 years by the Representation of the People Act 1989, and then reduced to the present period of 15 years with effect from 1 April 2002 by section 141 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.


A witness statement of Ms Philippa Baker, a senior civil servant working in the Elections and Democracy Division of the Cabinet Office, which has particular responsibility for policy on issues relating to the democratic process, observed that the Government is currently reviewing whether the 15 year limit remains appropriate. The Government's position meanwhile is that the 15 year limit is justifiable for two particular reasons: first, the individual's connection with the UK will generally diminish over time; second, non-residents are necessarily less affected than residents by the laws passed by Parliament and the decisions of the UK government. The Lord President therefore takes the view that it is reasonable that the influence of non-residents on the democratic process should diminish over time. Although there may be legitimate argument about the point at which it is adjudged that voting rights should be lost, he submits that 15 years is a permissible option for the Government to take.

The decision under challenge.


On September 2, 2009, the claimant applied to Wandsworth Borough Council, the first defendant, to be registered to vote in UK elections. By letter received on December 15, 2009, the first defendant rejected the claimant's application, by reason of the application of the 15 year rule. The claimant submits that this decision was unlawful because it unlawfully restricts his right to free movement within the EU as guaranteed by Articles 21, 45, and 49 the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (" TFEU"). Since the rule is not under the control of Wandsworth, only the second defendant has been represented in this application.

The relevant EU law.


The right to citizenship of the EU is conferred by Article 20 TFEU on everyone who is a national of a member state. The rights of citizens are then spelt out in Article 20.2 as follows:

"Citizens of the Union shall enjoy the rights and be subject to the duties provided for in the Treaties. They shall have, inter alia:

(a) the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States;

(b) the right to vote and to stand as candidates in elections to the European Parliament and in municipal elections in their Member State of residence, under the same conditions as nationals of that State;

These rights shall be exercised in accordance with the conditions and limits defined by the Treaties and by the measures adopted thereunder."


The right to move and reside is re-stated in Article 21. The right to vote in European Parliament and municipal (local) elections is re-stated in Article 22. The latter allows for a member state to derogate from the right where problems specific to that state warrant it.


Article 45 confers a right to freedom of movement on workers which includes a right to stay in a member state for the purposes of employment and seeking employment. Article 49 provides for the right to freedom of establishment. This confers the right to move freely for the purpose of setting up as a self-employed person or to set up and manage an undertaking.


In this case the claimant relies upon the freedom of movement provisions in each of Articles 22, 45 and 49. The Lord President does not accept that the claimant falls within the scope of Article 45 because he is managing director of and has a 35% shareholding in his own business. He contends that he therefore falls outside the definition of worker because he is not pursuing his activities in a relationship of subordination. However, he agrees that the claimant falls within the scope of Article 49 as a self-employed person and that in view of that nothing turns on whether Article 45 is also engaged or not. Accordingly, it is unnecessary in this appeal to determine that question and we heard no argument about it.

The grounds of challenge.


Mr Subiotto QC, in an attractive argument for the claimant, submitted that the 15 year rule is unlawful because it is liable to interfere with the freedom of movement. He submits that a rule which treats nationals who are resident abroad less favourably than they would have been treated had they remained in the UK potentially penalises them for exercising their right to freedom of movement. This is so whether they exercise the right for the purposes of work or for other reasons. That is the effect of the 15 year rule: those who have exercised their free movement rights are penalised after 15 years by being deprived of a fundamental constitutional right. It...

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