Election Petition Judgement : Birmingham 2004
Bordesley Green & Aston Wards (Labour fraud)

Election Petitions - three legal issues
Who is an agent ?

  1. A candidate in an election is, in many situations, liable for the acts of his agents. The concept of agency is much wider in election law than in other areas of the law such as contract.
  2. This wider concept of agency is well summarised in the Wakefield Case XVII [7] in a passage which Mr de Mello sets out in his final submissions:
  3. By election law the doctrine of agency is carried further that in other cases.

    By the ordinary law of agency a person is not responsible for the acts of those whom he has not authorised, or even for acts done beyond the scope of the agent's authority ... but he is not responsible for the acts which his alleged agents choose to do on their own behalf. But if that construction of agency were put upon acts done at election, it would be almost impossible to prevent corruption.

    Accordingly, a wider scope has been given to the term "agency" in election matters, and a candidate is responsible generally, you may say, for the deeds of those who to his knowledge for the purpose of promoting his election canvass and do such other acts as may tend to promote his election, provided the candidate or his authorised agents have reasonable knowledge that those persons are so action with that object.

  4. "Agent" is thus not by any means restricted to the candidate's official "party agent" but covers a wide range of canvassers [8], committees [9] and supporters [10]. The candidate is taken to be responsible for their actions even though he may not have appointed them as agents. Knowledge of what they are doing does not need to be proved against a candidate for him to be fixed with their actions.
  5. Mr de Mello accepts that it is open to the court to find corrupt and/or illegal practices on the part of a candidate in this case if it is shown, for example, that agents in this wide sense have been engaged in forging voting documents even if it cannot be shown that the candidate participated in the forgery or authorised it or knowingly permitted it to continue. Although he uses this situation to support his case of incompatibility with the HRA, he concedes that the court is bound by precedent to apply the wider definition of agency applicable to election law.

[7] (1874) 2 O'M&H 100.

[8] See for example Westbury Case (1869) 20 LT 16 and Tewkesbury Case, Collings v Price (1880) 44 LT 192.

[9] See for example Stalybridge Case, Ogden Woolley and Buckley v Sidebottom (1869) 20 LT 75.

[10] See for example Great Yarmouth Borough Case, White v Fell (1906) 5 O'M & H 176.