What does the dissolution of Parliament mean for you?

It will have been difficult to miss the beginning of the general election campaign, with the dissolution of Parliament yesterday marking the official commencement of campaigning ahead of the election on Thursday 7 May.

But not all charities, campaigning organisations and public bodies will be aware of the range of different rules that apply in the pre-election period following dissolution of Parliament.

BWB’s Electoral and Political Activities Group is perfectly placed to guide you through that minefield.

Charities

The rules regulating campaigning and political activity by charities become more restrictive during the pre-election period following dissolution of Parliament.

The Charity Commission has produced specific guidance for charities that applies during the pre-election period, available here.

Campaigners

Under the Representation of the People Act 1983 (the “RPA”), campaigning organisations (including campaigning charities) will need to be mindful of additional rules that govern campaigning for or against candidates in a particular constituency following dissolution of Parliament.

At the same time, rules governing third party campaigning during the regulated period before an election continue to apply, following the changes to electoral law made by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 (the “Lobbying Act”). Under those rules, individuals and organisations are required to register with the Electoral Commission as third party campaigners if they spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland between 19 September 2014 and polling day where the expenditure can reasonably be regarded as intended to influence the electoral prospects of parties or candidates.

For registered third party campaigners, the dissolution of Parliament means the beginning of weekly reporting to the Electoral Commission of donations received for controlled expenditure. Failure to comply with reporting requirement may result in penalties.

For organisations which have not yet registered with the Electoral Commission, the beginning of the formal election campaign might make it more likely that campaigning activities prior to 7 May could reasonably be regarded as intended to influence the election result, meaning that particular care should be taken.

A summary of the rules introduced by the Lobbying Act and their interaction with existing rules under the RPA is available here.

A discussion of some particular ways in which the Lobbying Act affects charities is available here.

Election hustings events

One area that can result in particularly difficult issues for charities and many other organisations is the holding of election hustings events. A summary of some of those issues is available here.

Public bodies

During the pre-election period following dissolution, public authorities are required to exercise particular caution in relation to decisions that could have a bearing on matters relevant to the election, that involve actions which may have a long-term character or where a newly elected government may be expected to take a different view. A summary of those rules is available here.

Political campaigning and advertising

Following dissolution of Parliament, the RPA provides additional protection to politicians, to prevent subversion of the democratic process. It is a criminal offence for anyone, for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at an election, to make or publish a false statement of fact about a candidate’s personal character or conduct, unless the person can show they had reasonable grounds for believing and did believe the statement to be true.

A discussion of the law relating to political campaigning and advertising is available here.

BWB’s Electoral and Political Activities Group

BWB’s Electoral and Political Activities Group includes leading public and regulatory, charity, governance, media, dispute resolution and employment lawyers with wide experience of advising charities, campaigning organisations, public bodies, trade unions, trade associations and businesses on how electoral law and the pre-election period might affect them. Details of the Group and its experience is available here.

If you have any questions in relation to any of these issues, please let us know. Contact details are available here.


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Melanie Carter

Partner and Head of Public & Regulatory

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+44(0)20 7551 7615

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m.carter@bwbllp.com
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Rosamund McCarthy

Partner

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+44(0)20 7551 7819

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r.mccarthy@bwbllp.com
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Rupert Earle

Partner and Head of Media Litigation

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+44(0)20 7551 7609

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r.earle@bwbllp.com
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Simon Steeden

Charity Partner and Head of Politics, Elections and Campaigning

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+44(0)20 7551 7782

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s.steeden@bwbllp.com
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Posted on 31/03/2015 in Legal Updates

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