Friday, December 16, 2011

The case of whether James Preston can vote hits the sand?



Who is James Preston?  He is a English businessman who lives in Spain. His last home in Britain was in Wandsworth, London,  more than 15 years ago.  When he applied to Wandsworth Council in 2009 to be registered as an overseas voter, he was told that because he left for Spain more than 15 years ago, he could not register as a voter.
Mr. Preston took the case to the High Court in London, with his Counsel acting ‘pro bono publico’ (for the public cause and without a fee).  
The final (almost) phase of this was brought to judgement on 8th November 2011 before the judges Lord Justice Elias and Mr. Justice King.  The case number is CO/3344/2010
Sad to say the judges rejected Mr. Preston’s case.
Is it stuck in the sand?  Well there are some interesting comments on the case both from the Counsel for the defence (the Council and the Government) and judges.
Let us look at these.
1.                  Mr Coppel (Counsel  for the Government) …  “Imposing a period of fifteen years as the cut-off point for eligibility to vote from overseas does not appear to be either disproportionate (etc)…………… Over such a time period, the applicant may reasonably be regarded as having weakened the link between himself and the United Kingdom … and he cannot argue that he is affected by the acts of political institutions to the same extent as resident citizens. It may be noted that in European Union countries, persons in the position of the applicant may generally vote in European Parliament elections. It is also open to the applicant, whether or not he so wishes, to seek to obtain the vote in the country of residence, if necessary by applying for citizenship.”
I am profoundly insulted by the last sentence.  These people confound VOTING with REPRESENTATION.   They assume that all that is necessary is the physical act of  THE VOTE!!  Help us all.  Are these ‘counsels’ these ‘civil servants’ so utterly blinkered?   We citizens need to be able to have our views HEARD.  We need to be able to speak to those who make laws which affect us and our families still resident in the UK.  We want our views heard on the matter of how our income is derived and the regulations which affect our savings. We want our views heard on the terms of treaties which affect our lives within the EU, and the future of  the structures and life within the UK to which , one day, many of us may need to return.
The link between us and the UK does not diminish with time.  We are not so much less affected than the general run of residents in the UK and getting less so with time. It is just not true!
Do these people realise that we, who live in Europe communicate instantaneously with our friends and families in Britain, and that we are aware as instantaneously  through television and the internet with events in Britain as THEY HAPPEN!

Lord Justice Elias wrote in his submission
I accept that the claimant and others who have provided witness statements are genuinely upset about the rule and consider it to be unjust and unnecessary. The right to vote is a fundamental constitutional right and the claimant is aggrieved by its removal. It does not, however, follow that disenfranchisement constitutes a deterrence to free movement.   For reasons I have given, in my judgement, it does not.
The matter of ‘free movement’ is the central point of Mr. Preston’s argument in this case.  It was on that very point that the judgement went against him
BUT
The Lord Justice Elias has also said ‘The right to vote is a fundamental constitutional right’. 
Lord Justice Elias  continued  Strictly therefore the issue of justification does not arise.  However, I shall deal with it briefly in case I am wrong on the first point. 
In my view, the 15 year rule is a proportionate interference with the right of free movement.  The Government was entitled to hold that there is a legitimate objective which the rule is designed to achieve, namely to remove the right to vote from those whose links with the UK have diminished and who are not, for the most part at least, directly affected by the laws passed in the UK.  

In short – If the Government are only seeking to remove the right to vote from those who have no links with the UK – then this obviously HAS FAILED. 
I and many like me have demonstrably very strong links with the UK and will have till the grave welcomes us.  
To remove my right to be REPRESENTED in the seat of Government of my Nation is dictatorship.  Britain, is in this respect a non-democratic Nation. The Government ordains that the voice of  many of its citizens is unwanted.
This case will go to appeal.
What YOU can do
1. Give your opinion to Mark Harper MP psmarkharper@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk
Mr. Harper is responsible for promoting a change in the law.
2. Make sure you give a comment on www.votes-for-expat-brits.com
3. Post this item to other British people.