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Máiría Cahill and Human Rights Commission Continue to Challenge Election Law

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Máiría Cahill and Human Rights Commission Continue to Challenge Election Law

Máiría Cahill and the Human Rights Commission attended Belfast High Court on Monday 25 November 2019. The Commission is supporting Máiría Cahill’s case to challenge the law which requires an individual’s address to be published when they stand as a candidate in local council or European elections.

The Court heard that the Secretary of State sought to amend the current law on 21 November through legislation, however the dissolution of Parliament prevented this. The case will be listed again for 3 February 2020 after the general election, allowing for a clearer picture of the progress of any new legislation.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby stated:

“The Commission believes Máiría’s human rights have been breached and that the current law is incompatible with the Human Rights Act. We therefore welcome the decision of the court today who acknowledged the importance of this case and scheduled a further hearing to take place on 3 February. We want to find a resolution to this case for Máiría and anyone else who might find themselves in similar circumstances in the future.

In the Commission’s view, being able to put yourself forward for election locally is a fundamental part of our democracy. The requirement for an individual’s name and address to be published disproportionately affects the right to privacy and may impact on their ability to stand in a local election. As a result, we want to see a change in the law to allow a candidates home address not to be published where there are reasonable circumstances for withholding it such as fear of domestic violence”

Máiría Cahill commented:

“A proposal for a change in the law would not be happening without this case. I welcome the commitment from the Secretary of State’s barrister today to change the law in NI in respect of the address issue for candidates standing for election. They have had over 6 months to resolve this issue so I remain disappointed that it hasn’t been fixed before now. I would like to thank the Commission in supporting me to take it to ensure that no-one will be forced to choose between their safety and standing for public office again.”

This case is not related to the current general election, however it has wide reaching implications for future electoral candidates and elections. The legal challenge has been lodged against the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Chief Electoral Officer. The Commission and Máiriá Cahill are challenging the Secretary of State as the Northern Ireland Office has responsibility for the relevant legislation. The Chief Electoral Officer is responsible for enforcing the requirement to publish the addresses of election candidates.

The case will be listed again for 3 February 2020.


Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: (028) 9024 3987 or by email on claire.martin@nihrc.org

Notes to Editors

1. The NI Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with the Paris Principles the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of measures undertaken by the UK Government to promote and protect human rights, specifically within Northern Ireland.

Facts of the case:

2. Máiría Cahill was co-opted onto Lisburn Castlereagh City Council in July 2018, as an SDLP representative. This process did not require that her home address was made public.

3. Máiría intended to stand for re-election to this Council seat in the local council elections of May 2019. During the process of filling in her nomination papers, Máiría noted the requirement that a candidate for local elections in Northern Ireland must have their home address published.

4. Máiría queried this requirement with the Electoral Office and was advised that she would have to provide her home address for publication, or her nomination papers would be considered invalid.

5. Máiría currently has an indefinite restraining order against an individual. This restraining order is in place by order of the court, for her protection. Publishing her address would put her at risk at that address, however the law required her to do so or forfeit her ability to stand for re-election. It is unacceptable to expect people to jeopardise their safety to run for public office in situations like these.

6. As a direct result of the legislation in place and the Electoral Office’s decision, Máiría was unable to submit her nomination papers and to seek re-election.

7. Following this, Máiría became aware of the possibility to stand in the European Parliament elections in May 2019. She made similar enquiries regarding the requirements for standing and was advised that she would again have to provide her home address for publication or be unable to seek election as an MEP. Again, the requirement to provide her address meant Máiría was unable to stand in the European Parliament elections.

What the law in N.I. is:

In Northern Ireland, candidates for the Westminster Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly elections do not have to publish their address in order to stand.

Under Schedule 5 to the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962 and Schedule 1 to the European Parliamentary Elections (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2004 this requirement remains in place for candidates standing for local council in Northern Ireland or taking part in European elections. The requirement has been changed for local council candidates and Westminster Parliament candidates in England and Wales.

The arguments:

Before the court, Máiría and the Commission will argue that the requirement that she publish her address is in violation of her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFR).

In particular, the requirement breaches her right to private and family life (Article 8 ECHR), her freedom to manifest her beliefs (Article 9 ECHR), her right to free elections regarding the European Parliament (Protocol 1, Article 3 ECHR) and is discriminatory towards Máiría on the grounds of sex (Article 14 ECHR).

The requirement further breaches Máiría’s CFR right to stand as a candidate at elections to the European Parliament (Article 39 CFR) and to stand as a candidate at municipal elections (Article 40 CFR).

8. The Commission’s Advice clinic

The Commission operates an advice clinic every Wednesday morning from 9.30am to 1pm. If you would like to make an appointment to discuss your case please call 028 90243987.

If you are unable to telephone us and would like to make an appointment please email us at info@nihrc.org.

If we are unable to take up your case, we will try to refer you to a more appropriate agency.

25 Nov 2019

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