Law firm Leigh Day have confirmed formal legal proceedings will begin in the High Court in London on Wednesday 16th March 2016 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.
The London based law firm is acting on behalf of 94-year-old Harry Shindler MBE, 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.
Official legal action will begin this week when papers are filed at the High Court, on behalf of the two claimants, for an urgent judicial review of the compatibility of the provisions of the EU Referendum Act and EU law.
Lawyers for the claimants state 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.
The judicial review of the legislation, if successful, would 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:
“Our clients are being penalised for exercising their EU free movement rights.
“The EU Referendum Act 2015 is said to be based on legislation for UK parliamentary general elections. But it gives a vote in the EU Referendum to members of the House of Lords, as well as to Irish and Commonwealth citizens who are resident in Gibraltar. None of these are allowed to vote in UK general elections.
“The people it arbitrarily excludes are those UK citizens who are among those most likely to be affected by the decision taken by voters in this referendum.
“Not to allow them to vote on the decision whether the UK remains part of the EU is unlawful and we have asked the Court to deal with the issues urgently so that the Act can be amended before the June date, to include all UK citizens residing in the EU for however long.”
Charlotte Oliver, an English lawyer based in Rome who runs her own practice in the Italian Capital and supports the legal action being taken, said:
"I am one of millions of people who make up the ever-increasing international British community, having lived in Italy since 2001 for family reasons. However, I still consider the UK my home, and the place where I will retire one day.
"As the Conservative Party made clear in their manifesto, there should be a vote for life for British citizens. The cut off point of 15 years is arbitrary and arcane given travel and communications have improved so much since it was imposed in 1982.
"It does not prove that a person has severed all ties with their country of origin. I cannot vote in Italian elections either as I am not an Italian national, so I am disenfranchised.
"I am a dual qualified English and Italian lawyer and represent international clients in Italy, the majority of whom are British nationals. I can practise here as a result of the European Directive on the Freedom of Establishment of lawyers in other member states.
"The decision of the UK to stay in or leave the EU is therefore something which affects me personally and professionally. I believe I should have the right to have my voice heard."