The Conservatives are planning to strip the Electoral Commission of powers to bring forward prosecutions for criminal offences under electoral law. Instead placing the power to do so with the police and Crown Prosecution Service, undermining the impartiality of the Commission.
It comes as the Commission investigates the funding of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat.
The plans were laid out in a forthcoming elections bill by minister of state at the Cabinet Office Chloe Smith on Thursday who in a written statement said the proposals would ensure the Commission is ‘fully accountable to Parliament’ and would provide ‘clarity in law’ that the watchdog ‘should not bring criminal prosecutions’.
Smith added in the statement: “In recent years, the Electoral Commission has sought to develop the capability to bring criminal offences before the courts. This has never been agreed by the Government or Parliament.
“Having the Electoral Commission step into this space would risk wasting public money as well as present potential conflicts of interest for a body responsible for providing advice and guidance on electoral law to initiate proceedings which might depend on the very advice that was given.”
However, the Commission has raised concerns that the plans could undermine its independence which is so vital to its work.
Concerns have also been raised over the plan to introduce a strategic statement of priorities for the commission, which could further undermine the Commission’s impartiality.
A commission spokesperson told LFF:
“Parliamentary oversight and scrutiny of the Commission’s activities are essential in ensuring the Commission commands trust and confidence. It is important, however, that the Commission’s independence is preserved and that it is able to continue to deliver all duties within its remit, including effective enforcement. Some changes announced today place a fetter on the Commission which would limit its activity. We will work with the Government to explore these areas.
“The Commission’s work enables the integrity and transparency of party and election finance; well-run elections and referendums which produce results that are accepted; and public understanding of the way our democracy works. Its vital contribution in these areas plays an important role in maintaining the UK’s strong and trusted democracy.”