UK: Will New Election Rules Increase Claims Against Public Authorities?

Last Updated: 1 May 2007
Article by Joanne Marshall

Local Government elections are taking place on 3 May 2007. New ward boundaries mean that of the 312 authorities in England over half have elections for all three council posts. Additional obligations imposed on local authorities and councils managing the election process by the new Electoral Administration Act 2006 may mean an increase in claims for insurers of public authorities.

It was two years ago that the Election Commissioner hearing the cases of alleged postal voting fraud in Birmingham during the 2004 local government elections said that the evidence of electoral fraud "would disgrace a banana republic".

Since then the new Electoral Administration Act 2006, which should be implemented in time for the May 2007 elections, has placed new obligations on local authorities and councils which arrange and manage elections. Amongst other things, councils are now required to check personal identifiers on statements accompanying postal votes against those submitted with the earlier application forms.

It is the fulfilment of their obligations by local authorities that is of particular interest to insurers. Cover for a returning officer, who has ultimate responsibility for the organisation of elections, is likely to be provided by way of endorsement or extension to a public authority policy. It should cover defence costs and also the costs of re-running an election.

In recognition of the Act placing additional responsibilities on local authorities the Government has provided an extra Ł21m through grants to help them fulfil their obligations. Such is the additional work required that more than half of the authorities may decide to leave vote counting until daytime on the Friday following the close of poll on Thursday evening.

It remains to be seen whether local authorities, particularly those with a large electorate and/or a high proportion of postal voters, are able to cope with the demands of the new Act. If they are not, a returning officer may find himself the subject of proceedings brought by a candidate for whom the election results did not reflect his hopes or expectations.

In the high profile Birmingham election cases of 2005, whilst the allegations against the returning officer were dismissed, there was no costs recovery for insurers from either the Petitioners or from the Labour Party Respondents against whom the fraud allegations were proved.

It is hoped that the new Act succeeds in its objective of eliminating electoral fraud and its cost consequences for insurers of public authorities. Prudent insurers should nevertheless monitor the position post-election to gauge the extent to which there are any allegations involving the way in which returning officers managed or administered the election given their new responsibilities under the Act.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 30/04/2007.

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