Simon Moore highlights the inadequacies of electoral law.

Simon Moore is a commercial litigation partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse.

The recent case of Spencer v Huggett & anor (Times Law Reports, 12 June 1997) demonstrates electoral law is inadequate.

Sir Derek Spencer, the bona fide Conservative Party candidate and sitting MP for Brighton Pavilion, tried to obtain an injunction preventing Richard Huggett (of Literal Democrat fame) from describing himself as the "Official Conservative Party Candidate".

He also sought an injunction against the returning officer to prevent her accepting a nomination paper from Huggett on that basis. An election petition was no use to Sir Derek because that could only be brought against the successful candidate, which was unlikely to be Huggett.

Sir Derek wanted to ensure Huggett would not get votes from electors by mistake and thereby deprive Sir Derek of victory against the Labour candidate in what was a marginal seat.

The Times Law Report omitted to mention that the judge, Mr Justice Longmore, simply ordered the removal of the word "official" from ballot papers and any election material published by Huggett, despite the fact that he had stood using this description without complaint 11 times previously. Huggett was therefore able to describe himself as the Conservative Party Candidate with judicial approval.

The returning officer was sued personally, even though she had complied with Home Office guidelines, which advised returning officers not to refuse a nomination paper on the basis of a candidate describing him- or herself as the official candidate of a party.

Sir Derek lost his seat to the Labour Party candidate, David Lepper. Perhaps he thinks this may be partly due to Huggett. Huggett also lost. Perhaps he thinks he should have been allowed to stand using the description which the Home Office (but not the High Court) said he could.

The returning officer complied strictly with her statutory obligations but faced the threat of a costs order against her personally, whatever decision she made. Even the judge was unhappy, expressing exasperation at being asked to determine irrevocably complicated questions of fact and law on an interlocutory basis at extremely short notice.

What is the answer? A proper system of registration for parties is worth exploring for these reasons alone.