Defending our Democracy - Say No to Voter ID

by Neil Coughlan

Defending our Democracy - Say No to Voter ID

by Neil Coughlan
Neil Coughlan
Case Owner
My name is Neil Coughlan and I live in Witham in Essex. This legal challenge is vital for defending our democracy against the Government's dangerous Voter ID plans.
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Neil Coughlan
Case Owner
My name is Neil Coughlan and I live in Witham in Essex. This legal challenge is vital for defending our democracy against the Government's dangerous Voter ID plans.
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Latest: March 26, 2021

Thank you for all your support!

I am truly overwhelmed by the magnificent support I have received from all of you regarding my legal campaign to defend our democracy. I have been genuinely moved and inspired by your comments and fe…

Read more

My name is Neil Coughlan and I live in Witham in Essex. In May 2019, for the first time ever, I was asked to show identification in order to cast my vote at the local government election.

This legal challenge is vital for defending our democracy against the Government's dangerous Voter ID plans, which will continue to suppress voter participation, particularly in less affluent wards, where turnout is all too often, already low. I am extremely concerned that the Government is trying to make it harder for people to vote so I am taking legal action. Please contribute what you can and share this page with your friends, family and on social media.  

This case revolves around the right of Universal suffrage (the right to vote for all adult citizens, regardless of property ownership, income, race or ethnicity) a concept that lies at the very heart of our democracy.

These voting rights were not freely given: indeed, they were hard fought for over hundreds of years by brave, courageous people, who were subject to intimidation, imprisonment and brutal abuse, many of whom died for the democracy that we take for granted today.

Therefore, as citizens, surely we are duty bound to question the motives of a government that would prescribe a solution that would erode fundamental rights that lie at the heart of our democracy, to combat a problem that barely exists.

This case is about protecting our democratic right to vote, and making sure our democracy is open and accessible equally to everyone. 

I have decided that I am going to stand up against a Government that is taking our democracy down a very dangerous path.

Please share on Twitter using the hashtag #SayNotoVoterID

Case background

In November 2018 the Cabinet Office announced that local authorities, including Braintree District Council, would be taking part in Voter ID pilots for the 2019 local elections but I believe that in doing so, the Minister for the Cabinet Office went beyond powers conferred on him by Parliament. The pilots under scrutiny are the precursor to and will form the evidence base for the Government's wider plans to introduce voter ID in all elections and the case raises issues of fundamental constitutional importance. During the voter ID pilots conducted, people who were unable to produce the prescribed documents were denied their vote. The Electoral Commission's evaluation of the pilots suggests that in total hundreds of voters were turned away and that a disproportionate number of those denied the vote were BAME voters.

The Windrush scandal devastated the lives of individuals and their families, however, it also demonstrated that many British citizens do not have official documentation.

I myself do not have any form of photo ID, nor do any of my immediate family members, and I know many people in my community who are also in that position. 

I feel that these measures will unfairly discriminate against not only myself, but also others in a similar position across the district and beyond, who are unable to provide with the same ease, identification, that ministers and civil servants take for granted, and naively think we all possess.

The Government has designed Voter ID as a solution to tackle the specific issue of voter impersonation in polling stations (when someone is pretending to be somebody else in order to cast one fake vote) however, this kind of fraud is an incredibly rare event, in fact, I cannot remember a single incident in my Council district in the forty years I have lived here.

The case

The Government forced these pilots through parliament using secondary legislation, and MPs did not have the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s plans. 

However, according to my legal team which includes leading barristers at Blackstone Chambers, the Government through the Minister of the Cabinet Office acted unlawfully in doing so as it does not have the power under the Representation of the People Act 2000 to introduce pilots like these which restrict voting rights.

The pilots affected all electors in Braintree and the other pilot areas but worse than that, if we don’t challenge this now, in future, Voter ID requirements could be rolled out nationally.

Given the significance of voter ID and the ramifications it will have for our democracy, it is only right that MPs who represent our communities are able to have a say over the Government’s plans.

This case seeks to ensure that any change to the voting and testing of Voter ID requirements are lawful and subject to proper Parliamentary scrutiny and debate.

How much am I raising and why? 

To cover my legal fees, I have set up a crowdfunding page. I need your help to pay the court costs, the costs if we lose (nothing is certain) and at least some of our lawyers' costs who have all agreed to work at heavily discounted rates.  At this stage we are raising £50,000 to cover costs of the case so far but we need to raise another £20,000 to see this through to the end.

I am not wealthy and call on all those concerned about the future of our democracy to help me take on this battle against the Government. Please contribute and share this page now!

Facts about voter ID

  • 3.5 million electors (7.5% of the electorate) do not have any photo ID. If restricted to passports and driving licenses, potentially 11 million electors (24% of the electorate) would not have the right ID.
  • In 2017 there were 28 allegations of impersonation out of nearly 45 million votes cast. This reflects 1 case for every 1.6 million votes cast. Of those 28 allegations, 1 case resulted in a conviction.


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Update 5

Neil Coughlan

March 26, 2021

Thank you for all your support!

I am truly overwhelmed by the magnificent support I have received from all of you regarding my legal campaign to defend our democracy. I have been genuinely moved and inspired by your comments and feel more determined than ever to fight this case on behalf of us all.

Without you, it would not have been possible to bring this case to Court at all, so on behalf of myself and my legal team, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all of you for your generous and vital support.

Regards,

Neil

Update 4

Neil Coughlan

March 18, 2021

Permission to proceed by the Supreme Court!

My ongoing challenge to the Government's plan to require voter ID at polling stations has been given permission to proceed by the Supreme Court! You can read more on this in today's Guardian.

My case was rejected by judges at the Court of Appeal in April 2020, although it was admitted that arguments were ‘finely balanced’. But now my application to have the case heard at the Supreme Court has been successful and the Supreme Court will hear an appeal to the decision of the Court of Appeal. 

My lawyers from Leigh Day and Blackstone Chambers will argue that the Court of Appeal was wrong to dismiss my case on the basis that:  

  • The right to vote in local government elections is a constitutional right, so cannot be restricted by general or ambiguous words in legislation. They will argue that the Court of Appeal was wrong to say that a requirement to produce identification at the polling station to satisfy an officer beyond reasonable doubt is not “a restriction on voting at all”, but “is merely a means of trying to ensure that those who vote are entitled to do so”.
  • The power under s.10 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 permitting experimental changes to “…how voting at the election is to take place” means the physical process, manner or means by which electors communicate their vote and so, contrary to what the Court found, is not wide enough to include showing an entitlement to vote by proving identity. 
  • The Court was wrong when it said that measures to combat electoral fraud were consistent with what Parliament intended because they would encourage and facilitate voting in the longer term. Neil will argue that the pilot schemes were not about “when, where and how voting at the elections is to take place” but about whether a person gets to vote at all. A demand for ID such as a passport, driving licence or utility bill at the polling station “frustrates the facilitation and encouragement to vote”.
  • The Court was wrong when it didn’t apply the principle that it should find against the Government when there is any doubt about the scope of a power to modify legislation in line with a Henry VIII clause. (Henry VIII clauses are clauses in a bill that enable ministers to amend or repeal provisions in an Act of Parliament using secondary legislation)

Your continued support is needed to help fund the ongoing work on the case which will allow us to make these arguments to protect our fundamental democratic rights. 

Thank you and stay safe!

Update 3

Neil Coughlan

April 24, 2020

Progress Update

Dear friends,

Our case against Voter ID was heard on Thursday 23rd April 2020 in front of three senior Judges at the Court of Appeal. Tony Peto, our lead Barrister and his team put forward on our behalf, strong and convincing arguments in support of our case against the government.

The judges have now retired to consider the arguments put forward by both sides. We may have to wait between four and five weeks for the decision, but I remain hopeful of a positive outcome.

Once again I would like to thank you all for your tremendous support and encouragement throughout this case. I will of course let you know the outcome of the case as soon as I have it.

Please stay safe and well.

Kind regards,
Neil Coughlan

Update 2

Neil Coughlan

April 16, 2020

Progress update

Dear Friends,

 I hope you are safe and well in these difficult times.

 You may remember back in November 2018, we launched a High Court challenge to test the legality of the government's intention to run pilots, as part of a plan to introduce a requirement to show identification to vote.

 In March 2019 the case was heard at the High Court, where we were unfortunately, unsuccessful. The pilots were then run, whereupon almost 1000 people were turned away from the polling station because they didn't have the correct ID.

 Following the case, we were able to scrutinize the judgment. The team felt strongly that the Judge had got his decision wrong on a number of issues, so we decided to seek permission to launch an appeal. We subsequently received that permission, and just a few days ago, we received confirmation of the date for the hearing at the Court of Appeal. The hearing will be heard on Thursday, 23rd April 2020 via video link and with the Government planning to introduce Voter ID nationally this case is as important as ever.

I would like to thank you all for your tremendous support without which, we would not have been able to get as far as we have. To prepare a case for the Court of Appeal requires many hours of work involving a number of people, not least our Barristers. Although our legal team intend to work at significantly reduced rates, I know that if you felt able to offer a little support in terms of donations, the whole team would be extremely grateful.

Thank you once again and please keep safe.

Neil Coughlan

Update 1

Neil Coughlan

Jan. 29, 2019

Progress update

Dear Friends


I am truly overwhelmed by the magnificent support I have received from all of you regarding my campaign to defend our democracy. I have been genuinely moved and inspired by your comments and feel more determined than ever to hold this Government to account on behalf of us all.


On the 11th January, we submitted our case bundle to the High Court, which included various documents setting out our case, including a witness statement from myself. We have now heard back from the Court, which has set an expedited timetable for the case to be heard. This means that the Court agrees with our submission that the case is important and should be decided quickly.


The Defendant now has to respond to our claim in writing by 4pm on the 8th February 2019 setting out their defence. The Court has ordered that a hearing will be listed for 1 and a half days on the 27th February 2019, or as soon as possible after that.


We have reached the sum of £26,124 towards our costs, which is great! We do, however, still need to get to £40,000 to see this through right to the end. Please continue to share with friends via social media or by whatever means you can. Your support has already made an impact - since we started, two councils have already pulled out of the 2019 pilot, East Staffordshire Borough Council and Ribble Valley Borough Council. This means people in those areas will now not have to provide ID in the 2019 local elections.


I shall continue writing articles for the Press, doing interviews and generally trying to spread the word from my end. I am confident that working together, we can ultimately achieve a successful outcome.


Best wishes,


Neil

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