From 'Arms, Malice, and Menacing' to the Courts: Disputed Elections and the Reform of the Election Petitions System
40 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2011
Date Written: April 11, 2011
From the first recorded disputed election in 1319 to the unseating of Philip Woolas in 2010, disputes over the outcomes of elections have been a consistent feature of the electoral landscape.
A variety of ways have been tried to regulate controverted elections in the UK. This paper canvasses the history of the systems used to decide disputed elections: direct appeals to the Monarch, the ordinary courts, Star Chamber, parliamentary committees, and the final reform of the system in 1868 where jurisdiction was vested in the Election Court under the Parliamentary Elections Act. There have been no reforms since the Victorian era, despite the dominance of parties in the contesting of elections and the increasing role of the state in the electoral process.
This paper explores the points where the election petition system could usefully be reformed, suggesting changes to standing, access to justice rules, and a new role for the Electoral Commission. These reforms, if adopted, would open up the petitions system beyond the immediate participants in the candidacy contest and recognising the public, rather than private, nature of the process.
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