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The Electoral Commission finally confirmed last Friday that it will not be appealing the judgment against it in July that cleared Brexit campaigner – and former BrexitCentral Deputy Editor – Darren Grimes of electoral offences. Despite his complete exoneration, Darren’s successful appeal against the findings of the Commission has been widely (and in some quarters perhaps wilfully) misunderstood. There have been widespread comments on social media to the effect that the judge decided to “let him off” because the Commission’s forms were complicated. In fact, Darren won comprehensively and the Electoral Commission was shown to be entirely at fault in its flawed findings against him.
The Commission’s decisions in respect of Vote Leave have also been subject to further comment in the light of the prominence of a number of its personnel in the new Government, not least the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Regrettably, financial considerations (it could have resulted in a seven-figure bill) meant that Vote Leave did not pursue its appeal against the Commission’s fine, but there are many elements of the judgment in Darren’s case which indicate that, had it gone forward, Vote Leave would also have succeeded in clearing its name.
Regarding Darren, His Honour Judge Dight did not “let him off” on grounds of youth, confusion or anything else. In a comprehensive judgment taking more than two hours to deliver, he found that the Commission had been wrong in fact and law when it determined that Darren had not notified his campaign group BeLeave as a permitted participant in the 2016 referendum, and had therefore submitted an incorrect spending return. The Commission’s case was that in March 2016 Darren had filled in the Commission’s form as an individual because he ticked the box for that option, and that in any event BeLeave did not, they claimed, exist as an unincorporated association at the relevant time, so couldn’t have been notified. In making its determination (after its third investigation of the matter, having found no violation in its first two investigations) the Commission:
- relied on (the judge found) an incorrect interpretation of the common law definition of an unincorporated association
- reversed the burden of proof that it should have applied in its investigation (by requiring Darren to prove facts rather than itself disproving those facts beyond reasonable doubt)
- incorrectly interpreted the relevant statutes
- relied on assertions from certain individuals (the self-styled ‘whistleblowers’) that were both self-contradictory and clearly inconsistent with proven facts
The judge found that BeLeave did exist, was capable of being a permitted participant in the referendum, was duly notified as such and that no breach of the spending rules in the referendum had been committed by Darren. In its investigation, the Commission alleged that it had not noticed BeLeave was named on the form and admitted that the form ‘on the face of it’ had actually notified it of BeLeave. The fact that the wrong box was ticked did not mean that Darren had not notified the Commission of BeLeave – it had been – and the ambiguous nature of that particular question, and the clear information elsewhere on the form, meant that the box-ticking error was not material to the effectiveness of the notification.
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Darren Grimes’ total exoneration leaves the Electoral Commission with huge questions to answer | BrexitCentral
The Electoral Commission finally confirmed last Friday that it will not be appealing the judgement against it in July that cleared Brexit campaigner – and former BrexitCentral Deputy Editor – Darren Grimes of electoral offences. Despite his complete exoneration, Darren’s successful appeal against the findings of the Commission has been widely (and in some quarters …