Landmark counsel Tim Buley QC and David Lock QC, instructed by Sean Humber of Leigh Day, have worked together to show that the government scheme to support blind and partially sighted people who want to vote fails to comply with the government’s statutory duties.

The key issue in this case was whether the provision of a “TVD” – a Tactile Voting Device – which is placed over the ballot paper provides sufficient assistance to blind and partially sighted voters.  The Claimant, Rachel Andrews, said that it failed to do so because it did not help her to understand the names of the candidates or their position on the ballot paper.

In a ruling handed down on 3 May 2019, Mr Justice Swift agreed that the TVD failed to provide the assistance required by the statutory scheme.  He said “the present TVD does not enable blind voters to vote “without any need for assistance” because it does not assist the blind voter when it comes to marking her vote against the candidate of her choice”.  The government will now need to consider how the support for blind and partially sighted people who want to vote can be improved to meet the statutory requirements.

The case is notable in that permission was initially refused on the papers (after permission had been refused in an earlier case raising a similar issue), thus illustrating the vagaries of the permission system. Yet the government is not now challenging the decision of Swift J despite previously arguing that the position he accepted to be correct was not arguable. That calls into question not only the approach being taken to permission in the Admin court but also the rules whereby claimant lawyers who fail to secure permission may not be paid under the current legal aid rules (as to which Tim Buley QC was successful in challenging an aspect of those rules in late 2018: https://www.freemovement.org.uk/legal-aid-judicial-review-duncan-lewis/).

Secondly, the case shows the perils of lawyers having a previous life in politics. Notwithstanding the early setbacks on permission, David Lock QC’s faith in the argument meant that he was successful in obtaining permission at the oral hearing, following which the government filed evidence of the decision making about election law at a time when he was a minister in the government. In the circumstances he felt unable to continue to act, and Tim Buley QC was instructed. Having taken over the case, Tim argued the case successfully at trial.

The full judgment in the case is here.

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