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Máiría Cahill and Human Rights Commission Election Law Challenge – High Court Leave Granted

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Máiría Cahill and Human Rights Commission Election Law Challenge – High Court Leave Granted

Belfast High Court has today granted leave in the case brought by Máiría Cahill and the Human Rights Commission, which challenges the election law in Northern Ireland. The government has indicated it will amend the law that currently requires an individual’s address to be published when they stand as a candidate in local council elections. The case against the Electoral Office has been dismissed and the court has allowed time for the government to change the law before the next stage of the case proceeds against the Secretary of State.

NIHRC Chief Executive, David Russell, stated:

“The Commission welcomes the decision of the court to grant leave and the government’s decision to amend the current provisions of the Electoral Law (NI) Act which require candidates for local government elections in Northern Ireland to disclose their home address.

“However, the Commission continues to believe that Máiría’s human rights have been violated and this must be recognised by the government. The detriment caused should be acknowledged. We have sought engagement throughout this case and we would urge the Secretary of State to make progress on the issues before it returns to court.”

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).

03 Feb 2020

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