On Thursday 8 November 2018, Mr Justice Baker gave permission for a Judicial Review which challenges the lawfulness of Regulations which require polling stations to provide a Tactile Voting Device (“TVD”) to support blind and partially sighted voters in General Elections.
The rules for running polling station in a General Election are set out at Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983. They require the Presiding Officer to provide a prescribed “device” which is required to remove the need for all blind or partially sighted voters to vote without “any need for assistance” from either the Presiding Officer or a companion. It is thus supposed to enable blind and partially sighted voters to exercise their right to vote in secret.
The Minister has prescribed the TVD as the relevant “device”. The TVD is a frame which sits on the top of a ballot paper, and allows a blind or partially sighted voter to mark the ballot paper themselves without assistance, provided the voter knows where their preferred candidate appears on the ballot paper.
Voters who are unable to read are provided with “assistance” from the Presiding Officer or a companion to allow them to exercise their right to vote. That assistance usually involves the Presiding Officer or a companion explaining the names of the candidates and their position on the ballot paper. Ms Andrews, who is the claimant in these proceedings and is a blind voter who has had enormous difficulties with the TVD in the past, complains that this is precisely the type of “assistance” that she should be provided with by a “device” in order to enable her to vote in secret. However, she argues that the TVD fails to comply with the statutory requirements primarily because it does not assist her to know the names of the candidates, their party affiliations and their positions on the ballot paper.
In this action, Ms Andrews complains that the TVD does not comply with the statutory requirements on the Minister to prescribe a “device” which removes the need to have any assistance when she is voting and thus enables her to vote in genuine secrecy. It follows that the Minister has acted unlawfully in prescribing the TVD and can only lawfully prescribe which genuinely supports blind and partially sighted voters to vote without need for any assistance from the Presiding Officer or a companion.
The case will be listed for a full Judicial Review hearing in 2019.
Ms Andrews is represented by David Lock QC, instructed by Sean Humber of Leigh Day.