Cheshire East Council

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Government to legislate for electoral offence of intimidating candidates or campaigners

The Government has confirmed it is to legislate to introduce a new electoral offence of intimidating a candidate or campaigner during the run up to an election, either in person or online.

Publishing its response to a consultation entitled Protecting the Debate: Intimidation, Influence and Information, the Cabinet Office said: “The new electoral offence has been developed to crack down on the intimidation and abuse being suffered by those at the forefront of public service. Intimidatory or abusive behaviour is a crime, which in extreme cases is already punishable with a custodial sentence.”

People who intimidate candidates or campaigners in the run up to an election will be banned from running for public office for five years.

The Government will also legislate to clarify the electoral offence of undue influence of a voter.

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“This offence, which includes acts or threats of violence to manipulate someone’s vote, will additionally cover intimidation inside and outside the polling station. Clarifying the offence in electoral law will enable enforcement agencies to enact sanctions more effectively, to protect voters from undue influence,” the Cabinet Office said.

The Government has also said it will commit to implementing a digital imprint regime. “Candidates, political parties and non-party campaigners are currently required to have an imprint on any printed election material, to demonstrate that they have produced it. Extending this to include digital communications is essential for promoting fact-based political debate and tackling disinformation online.”

The Cabinet Office said it would work closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and other stakeholders to confirm how such regulations will be put into practice and which third party organisations it would extend to. The Government will bring forward the technical proposal for this regime later on this year.

The Protecting the Debate consultation was launched by the Government after a report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL), Intimidation in Public Life, which was published in December 2017.

The Cabinet Office has meanwhile announced that a further consultation is to be launched on electoral integrity.

“The Government has also committed to strengthening the current provisions which protect UK politics from foreign influence. While there is no evidence that Britain’s elections or referendums have been compromised by foreign interference, it is right that the Government safeguards against future risks,” it said.

The Government will take views of interested groups like the Parliamentary Parties Panel and the Electoral Commission “to better understand the problems which Government could seek to address in the consultation, and to see what scope there is for broad cross-party agreement”.

The consultation may consider recommendations for increasing transparency on digital political advertising, including by third parties; closing loopholes on foreign spending in elections; preventing shell companies from sidestepping the current rules on political finance and on action to tackle foreign lobbying.

Minister for the Constitution, Kevin Foster, said: “There is no evidence that British elections or referendums have been compromised. One of Britain’s most valuable safeguards is the use of pencil and paper to vote. But we need to review and refresh our analogue laws for a digital age, and ensure there are robust safeguards against hostile states, foreign lobbyists and shadowy third parties.”

Lord Evans, chair of the CSPL, said: "The Committee welcomes the government response and we are pleased that the Government has accepted the recommendation we made in our 2017 report to make intimidation of electoral candidates and party campaigners a criminal offence.

"This is an important step and carries a powerful message about the unacceptable abuse and intimidation of people who stand for public office. If we want a vibrant and diverse democracy, more representative of the public its serves, we must be prepared to stand up to intimidation."

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