…but MPs given only cursory briefing on “undue spiritual influence”
Following the publication last month of the independent report by Sir Eric Pickles on election fraud, Securing the Ballot, we asked the question “Undue spiritual influence” – where next?. We suggested that given the “maintain the status quo” conclusion of the report, there is a possibility that Sir Eric’s suggestions might be destined for the Government’s “Pending/Do Not Disturb” tray, along with caste discrimination, cohabitation, lack of burial space &c. Caste discrimination appears to be working its way to the top of these tasks with the promise of a public consultation.
With regard to election fraud, however, on 5 September 2016, the House of Commons Library published Electoral Fraud since 2010 [“the Briefing Paper”] which:
- gives details of the reports published by the Electoral Commission and the Associations of Chief Police Officers on cases of alleged electoral malpractice;
- provides information about the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into electoral conduct which published its report in October 2013. The cross-party group of MPS and Peers was commissioned by John Mann MP to examine discriminatory behaviour during election campaigns.
- Includes a chronology of allegations of electoral fraud from 2010 to date and the different election offences are described;
[Information about electoral fraud before 2010 is contained in Briefing Paper 3667, Postal voting and electoral fraud 2001-09].
Status of Briefing Paper
In our earlier post on “undue spiritual influence”, we pointed out that Sir Eric’s report was a report to government rather than a report of government; by contrast, the Briefing Paper is a summary for parliamentarians (and others). As such, it is therefore not an authoritative statement of Government policy, but was published with the objective of “[providing] MPs and their staff with the impartial briefing and evidence base they need to do their work in scrutinising Government, proposing legislation, and supporting constituents”. But does it?
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
As with David Cameron who did not, as promised, trigger Article 50 TEU when the Brexit Referendum result was declared, so the significance of Electoral Fraud since 2010 is the absence of a consideration of “undue spiritual influence”; the sole reference was to a BBC report listing the allegations against Mayor Rahman that were upheld by the Election Commissioner [page 39, references 152 and 153] viz:
“Spiritual influence: voters were told that it was their duty as Muslims to vote for Mr Rahman. Mr Mawrey cited a letter signed by 101 Imams in Bengali stating it was people’s “religious duty” to vote”.
Furthermore, the Briefing Paper omits to mention that “spiritual injury” is a component of the 1983 Act or that the offence may be committed on someone’s behalf: see Erlam & Ors v Rahman & Anor  EWHC (QB), at 672(f). The section headed “Undue influence” states [page 4]:
“Section 115 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 states that an individual is guilty of undue influence if he directly, or indirectly, makes use of, or threatens to make use of, force, violence or restraint, or inflicts or threatens to inflict, injury, damage or harm in order to induce or compel any voter to vote or refrain from voting. A person may also be guilty of undue influence if they impede or prevent the free exercise of the franchise of an elector”,
However, S 115 of the 1983 Act actually states:
(2) A person shall be guilty of undue influence—
(a) if he, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint, or inflicts or threatens to inflict, by himself or by any other person, any temporal or spiritual injury, damage, harm or loss upon or against any person in order to induce or compel that person to vote or refrain from voting, or on account of that person having voted or refrained from voting; …”
“Undue spiritual influence” – a convenient shorthand for “undue influence through actual or threatened spiritual injury” – was only a small component of the judicial considerations in Erlam & Ors v Rahman & Anor, Sir Eric Pickles’ independent report and the Briefing Paper. Furthermore, offences based on this aspect of the 1983 Act and its predecessors have only rarely reached the courts, and recently have done so only as the result of a private action. So, why should one be concerned that the recent briefing is giving MPs the impression that it is not an important issue?
Securing the Ballot included the recommendation: “R41. The offence of undue influence should retain a reference to spiritual/religious influence”. This was based upon the consideration in paragraphs 196 to 199, which stated inter alia [emphasis added ]:
“196. The law on undue spiritual influence dates from the late 19th Century and cases mainly relate to the influence of the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland during that period. In modern society, there continues to be the potential for spiritual leaders to abuse their influence and authority among those with deep religious convictions in order to secure votes for a particular candidate, as seen in Tower Hamlets…”.
“199. The potential for spiritual influence to be exercised in society may be increasing, and it is important that the legislation unambiguously protects voters of any faith from having their religious beliefs manipulated in order to prevent them freely exercising their vote. Bullying a voter by asserting that they will ‘burn in hell’ for not supporting a candidate is ultimately no different from threatening physical violence or from an employer threatening to sack a worker. Freedom of worship and the right to vote are important and hard-fought British liberties. Britons should be able to exercise both those liberties without injury or intimidation.”
There is no indication of the research leading to these assertions. This recommendation is not referred to, directly or indirectly, in the summary of Sir Eric’s recommendations in Electoral Fraud since 2010, [pages 6/7]. However, Chapter 7 of the Briefing Paper includes two examples of recent research:
- Understanding electoral fraud vulnerability in Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin communities in England: A view of local political activists, published by academics at the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool who had carried out research on behalf of the Electoral Commission.
- Elections, voting and electoral fraud: an exploratory study focusing on British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, undertaken by NatCen Social Research.
Both were published in January 2015 and are based on an analysis of the electoral fraud as perceived by those in “vulnerable communities”. The latter provides a nuanced view of the many factors involved and highlights the fact that there is a lack of knowledge of the UK electoral process within these communities and of what constitutes undue influence.
However, by omitting a consideration of “undue spiritual influence” from the Briefing Paper, there is a possibility that future parliamentary considerations will commence on the assumption that this is not an issue that needs to be discussed. If “spiritual injury” is to remain a component of “undue influence”, as recommended in Sir Eric’s report, “the offence needed to be more clearly articulated, and if thought appropriate, re-stated for a 21st Century environment”: [Erlam & Ors v Rahman & Anor  EWHC (QB) at 669].