Liberals challenge Euro election result

Roger Pearson

A case scheduled for November could break new ground in election law.

The action has been brought by the Liberal Democrats and follows the defeat of the party's candidate for Devon and Plymouth in the European elections held in June this year.

Their candidate, Adrian Saunders was beaten after a recount by Tory candidate, Giles Chichester, son of round-the-world yachtsman Sir Francis Chichester. Chichester won by just 700 votes.

But the Liberals claim many voters were confused by the presence of Richard Huggett who stood as a 'Literal Democrat' and who polled a massive 10,203 votes (The Lawyer, 21 June 1994).

In what may be a unique case in election law, the Liberal Democrats are challenging the returning officer's acceptance of Huggett's nomination.

Mr Justice Dyson and Mr Justice Forbes ruled in the High Court in the last week of the legal term, which has just ended, that the preliminary legal issues in the case should be heard in London on 2, 3 and 4 November.

The question then will be whether it was wrong of the returning officer to accept the nomination of a candidate who could readily be confused with another.

If the court decides that the returning officer was wrong, the case will then move down to the west country, hopefully before Christmas, where it will then be asked to decide if inclusion of Huggett on the ballot paper affected the result.

Piers Coleman of London- based Nicholson Graham & Jones who is acting for the Liberal Democrats says they have so far amassed 460 signed statements from electors who say they voted by mistake because of the confusion which Huggett's name caused on the ballot papers.

The Liberal Democrats believe that thousands of electors voted mistakenly for Huggett, whose name was placed higher up on the ballot paper than their candidate's and that because of this they were robbed of election victory.

Coleman says that if the case does move to the west country it could be a drawn out affair if there is a real fight.