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UK Government asked to respond in case over alleged Russian interference in elections

19 Jan 2023 5 minute read
European Court of Human Rights. Photo Cherry X is marked CC SA 3.0

The UK Government has been asked by the European Court of Human Rights to answer a series of questions regarding a legal challenge being brought by a cross-party group of MPs over alleged Russian interference in elections.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Alyn Smith of the Scottish National Party (SNP) have lodged a claim with the Strasbourg court after the High Court in London rejected the case in 2021.

They say the failure of the Government to investigate “credible allegations” of interference in the UK electoral system, or to have in place a “legislative and policy framework that will identify and protect against interference in the UK electoral system”, breaches its obligations under Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights – which protects the right to free and fair elections.

In a letter to the group of MPs, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has accepted the claim through the first stage of the court’s process and says it now requires the UK Government to respond to five questions by the end of April.

The questions include whether the complaints made fall within Article 3 of Protocol 1, whether there is an implicit duty on states to investigate allegations of interference in their elections, and whether the MPs can claim to be victims of the alleged breaches.

Russian interference

The trio were part of a group of six parliamentarians who lost a bid to bring a High Court challenge in June 2021 against then-prime minister Boris Johnson over his alleged “failure” to investigate possible Russian interference in UK elections.

They claimed Mr Johnson unlawfully failed to act following a report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which found the Government was “slow to recognise the existence of the threat”.

The ISC report, published in July 2020, found the Government should have recognised the threat that Russia would seek to influence voters “as early as 2014”, when a referendum on Scottish independence was held.

Following publication of the report, Mr Johnson said there was “no country in the western world that is more vigilant in protecting the interests of this country or the international community from Russian interference”.

In a statement at the time of the failed High Court challenge, a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “Safeguarding our democracy will always be an absolute priority and the UK has robust systems in place to protect our elections from interference.

“We will also always ensure our security services and law enforcement have the powers they need to tackle future threats and the evolving tactics carried out by states and actors.”

After their case was rejected at the High Court and they were denied permission to take it to the Court of Appeal, the MPs took their legal fight to Strasbourg.

Brexit

In a statement on the latest development in the ECtHR case, Mr Bradshaw said the case was “not about reversing” the result of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

He said: “A number of us have been warning about (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s real intent for more than 10 years.

“We know that his long-term strategy has been to destabilise and divide western democracies and nothing that’s happened in recent British history has done more to destabilise Europe, and Britain’s relationship with it, than Brexit.

“Nobody is advocating reversing Brexit. This is about something far more fundamental than that.

“It’s about (protecting) the integrity of our politics, our democratic system and our electoral process from Russia and other hostile state actors, whose active strategy is to try to disrupt and destroy that model.”

Ms Lucas said: “It’s two-and-a-half years since the Russia Report showed credible evidence of Russian interference in UK elections, and yet our Government has continually turned a blind eye to its jaw-dropping findings.

“With a general election on the horizon, and with Russia’s war on Ukraine showing no sign of abating, the stakes have never been higher.

“Ministers simply can’t be allowed to keep ignoring national security issues for reasons of political inconvenience. So I’m delighted that this landmark court case is proceeding to the next stage … the future of democracy is on trial.”

Wake up call

Mr Smith said: “The Russia Report was the wake-up call which showed how successive UK governments have failed to take their own security responsibilities seriously to ensure free, fair and secure elections in these islands.

“It is frankly staggering that we are still having to drag the UK Government kicking and screaming to implement many of the report’s proposals.”

Tom Short of law firm Leigh Day, who is representing the MPs along with Tessa Gregory, said: “Our clients are delighted that the ECtHR has decided to take this case forward and is seeking answers from the UK Government on whether its failure to investigate Russian interference in our democratic processes violates the right to free and fair elections.

“This important case is about the integrity of democracies and may have implications across Europe on the need for states to protect against foreign threats of manipulation and disinformation.”


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Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
14 days ago

Here we see why there is such Tory desperation to get rid of the ECHR and all our rights with it. I’ve long had the feeling that if they are still in power after the next election and after all they have done, we will be smelling a very big rat.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
14 days ago

Fat Shanks; ‘How Me and My Chums Fell in Love with the Rouble’ possible early chapter of ‘My Story’…perhaps Carrie (remember her?) might scope the interior design possibilities, request a cell with a sea view…

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
13 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Sounds good but I think the sea view is too generous.

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