#DeniedMyVote still matters - Support disenfranchised EU citizens!

by Filomena Merola

#DeniedMyVote still matters - Support disenfranchised EU citizens!

by Filomena Merola
Filomena Merola
Case Owner
An European who calls herself a Londoner, because London is home.
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Filomena Merola
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An European who calls herself a Londoner, because London is home.
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Latest: July 27, 2021

Fighting on!

Fighting on - to the European Court of Human Rights Firstly, we would like to say thank you again to everyone who has supported the #DeniedMyVote test case so far. We feel strongly that the case stil…

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I am Filomena Merola. I am one of over a million EU nationals who were registered to vote here in the UK in 2019, but who could not actually vote because of the UK’s discriminatory and bureaucratic electoral system. Alongside other affected EU citizens, I have been challenging this breach of my rights in the #DeniedMyVote judicial review test case. Now it has reached the Court of Appeal, we urgently need your support to continue. 

I have lived here for over 20 years and wanted to vote in the EU Parliament Elections in May 2019. EU citizens living here were denied the chance to express our opinion about whether the UK should leave or remain in the EU in the 2016 Brexit Referendum – despite the profound effect it would have on our lives. So voting in 2019 was a way to make my voice heard alongside everyone else’s. I was not told about the UK’s UC1 form which only EU citizens must complete until 6 May, but was assured by a local council official that I could vote. On arrival at the polling station, I was told that was wrong and I would not be allowed to vote after all. My name was on the voting register, but crossed through. 

I felt betrayed, rejected, and deprived of one of the most basic democratic rights. 

Exactly the same thing happened to tens of thousands of other EU nationals. In some local councils, 90% of EU nationals were crossed off the voting register. To this day, the UK Government has not accepted this was wrong in any way, never mind apologised. 

Supported by the3million, several of us brought a judicial review test case in the UK courts to expose the discrimination as wrong and demand accountability. That case was rejected by the Divisional Court in February this year. But we are fighting on and have a hearing to seek permission to appeal this month in the Court of Appeal. If permission is refused there, we will take our case to the European Court of Human Rights. 

We have nothing to pay our lawyers, but they are standing by us - we have a good case, despite what the Divisional Court said. We do need enough money for the Government’s costs at the permission hearing which we may need to pay if permission is refused. We cannot face the risk personally. 

Please donate what you can now, to help us fight on in the Court of Appeal. 

We will ask the Court or Appeal to rule there has been a systemic, discriminatory and large-scale rights breach. Ours is the first case of its kind in the UK. 

If we win, the ruling cannot change the results of the polls in the UK, but it would show that voting rights matter and cannot be taken away unlawfully without consequences. 

If you can afford a contribution to the fighting fund, however small, it will make a massive difference. 

And your support for our test case will help show that the UK remains a nation that cares about the principle of everyone having the right to vote and that, when fellow citizens are stripped of their rights because they happen to be in a minority group, that will be challenged. 

More about our case

Our legal team comprises QCs Gerry Facenna and Anneli Howard of Monckton Chambers, Gayatri Sarathy of Blackstone Chambers, along with John Halford, Caroline Robinson, Verity Cannell and Grace Benton of Bindmans LLP. They are arguing the Divisional Court was wrong to conclude that there was no breach of the our right to vote due to the disproportionate voting registration requirement imposed by the UK Government and/or its conduct in the lead up to the 2019 Elections. They are also arguing that the Court was wrong to conclude that the Government did not unlawfully discriminate against us in the exercise of our right to vote on ground of EU nationality by requiring us to satisfy different and more onerous conditions to vote in the 2019 Elections than those in a comparable position. 

Update 3

Filomena Merola

July 27, 2021

Fighting on!

Fighting on - to the European Court of Human Rights Firstly, we would like to say thank you again to everyone who has supported the #DeniedMyVote test case so far. We feel strongly that the case still matters and it is heartening to know that so many of you agree. Last month, the Court of Appeal heard our application for permission to appeal against the Divisional Court’s judgment. Unfortunately, permission was refused. We are still waiting for the Court’s written judgment and will post it soon. A summary of what happened at the Court of Appeal follows below. Despite this setback, this is not the end of our case. We are ready to fight on. Having taken the case as far as possible in the UK court system, we now can and will petition the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, arguing EU citizens’ voting rights (in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights) were breached and we were discriminated because of the UK’s failure to guarantee those rights in an equal way (contrary to Article 14). Our lawyers are not charging for any of their work in the Court of Appeal. We will need to cover some of the Government’s costs – those that relate to the appeal hearing itself – plus court fees. However, the Court of Appeal capped the costs the Government can recover  so there will be money left over from what we have raised with your help. We would like to use that to make a contribution to the cost of our lawyers’ time on the legal submissions  to the European Court of Human Rights. If you have concerns about us using a contribution you have made to the case in this way, please do let us know via our solicitor at j.halford@bindmans.com.   Again, thank you for your support. Despite the setbacks in the Divisional Court and Court of Appeal, we will not give up. The Court of Appeal hearing The hearing began with our barrister, Anneli Howard QC, highlighting that we, the appellants, were individuals who had lived in the UK for many years, raised families here, worked and paid taxes. Although we had voted previously in local and European Parliament elections, in 2019 we were struck off the register and turned away – just like many thousands of others denied their right to vote. We were deprived of our fundamental right to participate in a democratic society and felt treated as second class citizens. She summarised our arguments as to why the government’s provisions for EU24 citizens voting in the 2019 European Parliament elections were unlawful and discriminatory. Christopher Knight, the barrister acting for the Government, responded by essentially arguing that the Divisional Court below had been correct in its findings. He submitted that the claim was ‘academic’ because there would be no further European Parliament elections in the UK and EU law no longer applies. He said that the issues raised were ‘water under the bridge’. Our barrister then briefly made her reply submissions, emphasising that the way in which the government had applied the law had made it impossible for EU24 citizens to exercise their right to vote and that the 2019 elections were a very important set of elections that took place at a time when EU law was wholly in force in the UK. After a short break, Lord Justice Dingemans gave an ‘ex tempore’ judgment (meaning he gave it orally there and then, to be transcribed later). Permission to appeal was refused. The Court accepted that the right to vote is fundamentally important and acknowledged that the system for EU nationals to vote could have been improved. The Court held that although it was apparent that some people were not able to vote there was not, in the Court’s view, a basis to find unlawfulness. We hope this update is helpful. Once we have the full judgment, we will post it with a further update on preparations to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Filomena, Anna and Christiane

Update 2

Filomena Merola

June 30, 2021

Thank you and fingers crossed

Today our lawyers head to the Court of Appeal to seek permission for our appeal to proceed. They will argue as hard as they can for #DeniedMyVote to be confronted properly in the UK’s higher courts, which is ideally where accountability for what happened should take place. But if permission is refused, we are ready to fight on - all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

 

Meanwhile, we want to take this opportunity to express our sincere thanks for all the support we have had through CrowdJustice to get this far – both in the form of the donations you have made to our fighting fund and your kind and warm words of support and encouragement.

 

Filomena, Anna and Christaine

#DeniedMyVote appellants

Update 1

Filomena Merola

June 21, 2021

Why we should all care about the #DeniedMyVote appeal

Undeterred by a Divisional Court judgment that dismissed much of their case as “academic”, three of the EU citizens who were disenfranchised in the 2019 EU Parliament elections have launched a CrowdJustice campaign so they can fight on in the Court of Appeal later this month. But with the UK out of the EU, why is the case still important?

The #DeniedMyVote scandal was, for many, symbolic of the worst Brexit had to offer our EU neighbours in the UK, whether they were recent arrivals or UK residents for decades. 

Polling day in May 2019 in the UK should have been an opportunity for many to register their support or opposition for candidates standing here in the UK to become MEPs in the last few months of the UK’s membership of the EU. Yet on the day itself, despite being registered to vote here EU citizens were turned away from polling stations in large numbers and told they would not be allowed to vote at all. Many had completed the UK’s special ‘UC1’ forms to certify the rather obvious fact that they intended to vote here, only to be told the forms had been lost or not processed in time. Other EU citizens had never heard of them. When they asked officials whether they could complete the forms at the polling stations there and then, they were told this was not permitted. Adding insult to injury, some EU citizens were told that they ought to go away and vote in their ‘own countries’. Meanwhile, their British neighbours were permitted to vote unhindered. Many British citizens did face difficulty, however, if they attempted to vote here by post from other EU countries: significant numbers of ballot papers were either not sent out in the first place or lost when they were returned.  

The disenfranchised EU citizens and their British counterparts had two other things in common. First, all of them were legally entitled to vote either in the EU country where they were resident or in the country of which they were nationals - a basic right written into the EU treaties and underpinned by human rights and anti-discrimination law. 

Secondly, organisations representing them had been raising concerns about how effective the 2019 European Parliament elections would be because serious disenfranchisement problems had already arisen in the 2014 elections. 

The UK Government had promised to remedy those problems, but after the 2016 Brexit Referendum it simply assumed that the 2019 European Parliament elections would not be taking place. It was not until not until 7 May - the very same day when EU citizens were legally required to return the special UC1 forms confirming they intended to vote here – that it reversed its positon and confirmed there would be elections after all. 

It is difficult to know just how many EU citizens were denied their right to vote, but a special report of Electoral Commission into what happened suggests that there were well over a million who had registered to vote but did not exercise their rights. In short, #DeniedMyVote was the largest scale of electoral disenfranchisement in the UK in recent history, possibly ever.

Regrettably, the Divisional Court who heard the #DeniedMyVote test case saw things differently and dismissed it in scathing terms. But the Court of Appeal has now directed a permission hearing to assess the arguments afresh. 

It is right that this happens because the case remains important for three reasons. 

First, it might be thought that the #DeniedMyVote scandal would be acknowledged and apologised for by Prime Minister fond of describing Britain as the “home of democracy”, but his Government has consistently maintained there was nothing wrong with #DeniedMyVote. That in itself should be countered by the Courts. 

Secondly, the case matters at this critical time for broader reasons. If our EU Citizen friends and neighbours can be casually stripped of the right to vote, despite it being embedded in law at the time, what other rights might be taken away by the same means? 

Thirdly, history tells us that minorities are an easy target for disenfranchising action by governments with large majorities - and if their rights are taken away without challenge, it is not long before our own are threatened. 

For the Court of Appeal permission hearing to proceed, the appellants need crowdfunded financial support so they will not be exposed to Government legal costs. If #DeniedMyVote still matters to you, please contribute what you can. 

John Halford

Solicitor on the #DeniedMyVote appeal

Bindmans LLP 

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