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High Court rejects legal challenge over Voter ID pilot

A High Court judge has dismissed a legal challenge brought by a former councillor over plans to hold Voter ID pilots for the 2019 local elections.

The claimant in Coughlan, R (On the Application Of) v The Minister for the Cabinet Office [2019] EWHC 641, Neil Coughlan, argues that the requirements would “serve to further disenfranchise the poor and vulnerable who already struggle to have their voices heard".

Mr Coughlan lives in Witham, which is within Braintree. The district council’s scheme would require voters to present either one form of photo ID or up to two forms of non-photo ID.

Mr Justice Supperstone, who heard the case in the Administrative Court, said: “Voter ID schemes are controversial. It is therefore important to make clear that this court is not concerned with the merits of the decision to introduce the pilot schemes.

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“The only issue for this court is whether the decision to do so is lawful. That turns on the proper interpretation of section 10 of the Representation of the People Act 2000, which empowers orders in respect of approved pilot schemes for voting in local government elections."

The judge continued: “In essence, the central question is whether the voter ID pilots are schemes within the meaning of s.10(2)(a), that is, whether they are schemes for testing ‘how voting… is to take place’.”

The claimant contended that the requirement to produce voter ID did not concern "how" voting takes place, but whether voting was permitted to take place at all.

The defendant, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, contended that the pilot schemes did fall within the scope of s.10(2)(a). He argued that they make provision differing in a relevant respect from that contained in secondary legislation made ‘under or by virtue of the Representation of the People Acts as regards … how voting at the elections is to take place’.

The defendant contended the words Parliament used include procedures for demonstrating an entitlement to vote as part of the voting process, including a requirement to prove identity. Current procedures permit entitlement to vote to be demonstrated through questioning.

Following a rolled-up hearing, Mr Justice Supperstone concluded that the grounds of challenge were arguable and he therefore granted permission. However, he also decided that none of the grounds of challenge advanced were made out.

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