In its most recent public opinion survey, in February this year, the words most frequently used by voters to describe the commission were “independent”, “important” and “professional”. The commission plays a vital role in maintaining fairness, trust and confidence in our democratic processes, both as a whole and in the nations of the UK. Its work ensures that UK election processes are accepted and that the funding and spending at elections and referendums are transparent.
The Darren Grimes case flagged up some serious concerns about the capacity and ability of the Electoral Commission to prosecute cases. In fact, the trial judge found the Electoral Commission to be at fault for reversing the normal criminal justice burden of proof. Surely this undermines the concept of political impartiality. What steps are being taken to improve the investigative processes of the commission?
The commission’s legal fees in that case were approximately £228,000, including solicitors’ fees of £138,000 and barristers’ fees of £90,000. The commission also paid £535,000 towards Mr Grimes’ legal costs. Significant amounts of money are being spent in campaigning to influence voters, and it is right that the regulator for political finance should investigate and make findings on evidence of concerns. It is also right that the regulator should defend its findings in court. On this occasion, the court did not agree with the commission’s findings, and it accepts that decision.