The High Court has agreed to hear arguments in the legal challenge against the UK Government over its decision to exclude up to 2 million British people living in the European Union from the right to vote in June’s EU Referendum.
A ‘rolled up’ hearing will take place later this month at which both the permission to apply for a judicial review will be held, and if successful and permission is granted, a substantive hearing will follow immediately after.
Lawyers for the claimants, Leigh Day, have expressed the wish for fast track legislation to be put through Parliament so that the referendum should not be delayed.
Leigh Day is acting on behalf of 94-year-old Harry Shindler, a Second World War veteran who lives in Italy, and lawyer and Belgian resident Jacquelyn MacLennan. Both claim that under the EU Referendum Act 2015 they are being denied the right to vote on the UK’s continued membership of the EU.
Despite the Conservative 2015 manifesto including the pledge to introduce votes for life, scrapping the rule that bars British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting, the UK government have not proposed any legislation to reverse this ‘undemocratic’ rule ahead of this Summer’s crucial vote on whether the United Kingdom remains in the EU.
At the hearing, an exact date for which has yet to be agreed, lawyers for the claimants will argue that excluding UK expats who have lived elsewhere in the EU for more than 15 years acts as a disincentive from, and a penalty for, their exercising their free movement rights. It also prevents them from participating in a democratic process, the result of which might bring to an end the very EU law rights on which they rely and base their working lives.
According to Richard Stein, the lawyer for the claimants, the judicial review of the legislation, if successful, should require the Government to rush through amending legislation to change the franchise for the forthcoming referendum in June 2016.
According to lawyers there is precedent for such fast track legislation going through Parliament in a matter of days, they point to the the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 which received Royal Assent on 17 July 2014 after being introduced before Parliament just three days before, on 14 July 2014, in response to a European Court decision that declared the Data Retention Directive to be invalid.
Richard Stein, the lawyer from Leigh Day representing the claimants, said: “We believe that the Government has the time now to amend the franchise and empower the many expats who have lived outside the UK for over 15 years who want to vote on decisions which will have a very real impact on their lives.
“This legal action should not delay the referendum, the Government should instead stand by its promises and give a ‘vote for life’ to British citizens."