Cloisters’ Robin Allen QC, Rachel Barrett, Catherine Casserley, Schona Jolly QC, Declan O’Dempsey and Akua Reindorf, together with Charlotte Thomas of Brick Court Chambers, consider the equality and human rights implications of MPs returning to Parliament during the coronavirus pandemic.

Introduction

On 21 April, the House of Commons passed a motion approving the introduction of ‘hybrid proceedings’ to minimise the need for physical attendance in Parliament during the coronavirus lockdown. Since then, electronic voting has been facilitated to allow MPs to participate remotely in parliamentary votes (‘divisions’). MPs cast their first remote vote on 12 May. However, the provision for remote voting has now lapsed. On 2 June, MPs are being asked to approve a motion which would make it mandatory for them to attend Parliament in order to participate in divisions.[1] The proposal has caused consternation for MPs who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, or who live with vulnerable family members, as well as adverse comment from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

This article considers whether there is any legal avenue to challenge the withdrawal of remote voting, and if so what the equality and human rights grounds for challenge might be. The ability of our elected representatives to participate in the parliamentary process is crucial to the functioning of our democratic system. Therefore, we consider it is valuable (and important) to consider the possible legal options. Regardless of the availability and merits of any legal challenge through the courts, Parliament ought not to set an example to employers and service providers across the country, to whom the law clearly applies, that disregards fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination for older, disabled and pregnant MPs, as well as for those whose ethnicity may render them disproportionately impacted by the measure. Many MPs will be placed in an invidious position which twenty first century employees, for example, would not be required to face.  Such disregard for fundamental principles of equality and human rights, regardless of any technical legal carve-outs which protect Parliament from challenge, also risk impairing the essence and effectiveness of parliamentary democracy by depriving voters of a voice in Parliament.

Is the issue justiciable in the domestic courts?

The decision whether to proceed with in person divisional voting will be taken by a vote of the House of Commons and will be implemented by amending the relevant Standing Order governing parliamentary procedure.

A Standing Order is an order of a permanent character, ‘standing’ from one parliamentary session to another, by which the House directs its committees, its Members, its officers, the order of its own proceedings and the acts of all persons whom they concern: see Erskine May, Parliamentary Practice, 25th ed. (2019), §20.96.

Can a Standing Order can be challenged in the courts? The answer is not straightforward.

The internal proceedings of the UK Parliament are protected by parliamentary privilege, a term which encompasses two related principles:

  • Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1688, which protects freedom of speech in Parliament by providing that ‘proceedings in Parliament’ cannot be challenged in court; and
  • The broader and older common law principle of ‘exclusive cognisance’, meaning that each House of Parliament is free to regulate its own internal affairs without interference from the other House or from the courts.

Both principles were considered by the Supreme Court in R v Chaytor [2011] 1 AC 684, in which MPs accused of making dishonest expenses claims argued (unsuccessfully) that they could not be prosecuted in court. Lord Phillips confirmed that the concept of exclusive cognisance is “wider than, and embraces article 9” (at §13). It is for the courts and not for Parliament to determine whether either principle applies, though the court may attach weight to views expressed in Parliament by those in a position to speak with authority (at §§14-16). The relevant principles were also recently summarised in the prorogation case, R (Miller) v Prime Minister [2020] AC 373, at §§63-69.

Article 9

Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1688 provides: “That the Freedome of Speech and Debates or Proceedings in Parlyament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parlyament.” An equivalent provision appears in the Claim of Rights Act of 1689 (in Scotland).

There are a series of established exceptions to Article 9, none of which apply here. They were set out by the Speaker before the Court of Appeal in the very recent decision of R (Heathrow Hub Ltd) v S of S for Transport [2020] EWCA Civ 213, at §158 (albeit that the Court of Appeal suggested, obiter, a possible narrowing of approach in relation to the admissibility of statements made in Parliament, at §169).

As to the meaning of “proceedings in Parliament”, a distinction is drawn between, on the one hand, “the core or essential business of Parliament, which consists of collective deliberation and decision making”, and, on the other hand, “an activity which is an incident of the administration of Parliament” (R v Chaytor [2011] 1 AC 684, at §47 and §62; MPs’ submission of expenses claims was an example of the latter and so could be subject to control by the courts). Meanwhile, Erskine May, Parliamentary Practice, 25th ed. (2019), §13.12 provides: “The primary meaning of proceedings, as a technical Parliamentary term, which it had at least as early as the 17th century, is some formal action, usually a decision, taken by the House in its collective capacity”.

It is well established that the question whether a Standing Order was breached in the course of the passage of an Act is no part of the Court’s function: Pickin v British Railways Board [1974] AC 765, HL, 787 per Lord Reid. Article 9 must also prevent the Court from considering the lawfulness of a Standing Order itself, since it qualifies as a decision taken by the House in its collective capacity.

Exclusive cognisance

The principle of exclusive cognisance has a long pedigree. The House of Lords explained in Stockdale v Hansard (1839) 9 A & E 1, 147-148, that “over their own internal proceedings the jurisdiction of the Houses was exclusive.

More recently, in R v Chaytor [2011] 1 AC 684, Lord Phillips explained that “Exclusive cognisance refers … to the exclusive right of each House to manage its own affairs without interference from the other or from outside Parliament” (§63). Standing Orders are, of course, a central means by which such management takes place and so ought to be covered by this principle.

When might parliamentary privilege be overridden?

Despite the foregoing, might a Standing Order nonetheless be open to scrutiny on the basis of some overriding principle?

R v Chaytor [2011] 1 AC 684 observed that parliamentary privilege can be abrogated by statute. The questions considered in that case are set out at §68:

“Where a statute does not specifically address matters that are subject to privilege, it is in theory necessary as a matter of statutory interpretation to decide a number of overlapping questions. Does the statute apply within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster? If it does, does it apply in areas that were previously within the exclusive cognisance of Parliament? If so, does the statute override the privilege imposed by article 9?” 

Could the Equality Act 2010 (‘EqA’) satisfy these tests in respect to the question of access to voting technology? The statute otherwise applies within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster (as to which, see further below). The question of access to the Parliamentary estate, which would previously have fallen within the exclusive cognisance of Parliament, is now subject to the jurisdiction of equality legislation. Why should the mechanism of voting be different from access ramps and lifts?

The provisions of the EqA implement and must be interpreted in conformity with EU law (which continues to have effect just as it did before Brexit under s 2(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and retains supremacy, with the European Communities Act 1972, well recognised as a ‘constitutional instrument’. In Kücükdeveci v Swedex (Case C-555/07) [2010] IRLR 346, the CJEU identified a general principle of non-discrimination in EU law which had to be given effect.  The domestic courts can therefore set aside any principle of national law which contravenes or renders impossible the enjoyment of a fundamental right (Benkharbouche v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2017] UKSC 62).  MPs whose disability, or risk factors relating to ethnicity or other protected characteristics, renders it impracticable or disproportionately unsafe for them to attend sittings may argue that they are being subjected to discrimination in their occupation, contrary to EC Directive 2000/78 as implemented by the EqA.

The relationship between Article 9 of the Bill of Rights and such ‘constitutional instruments’ was discussed in the HS2 case [2014] UKSC 3. That case concerned the hybrid bill procedure (including discussion of the applicable standing orders, at §§59-60). The argument made was that the parliamentary procedure selected for the HS2 bill did not allow for effective public participation, as required by the applicable EU Directive. Neither side raised the application of Article 9. However, Lord Reed, who gave the leading judgment, appeared to consider that this argument, if well-founded, would engage Article 9; he observed at §58 that “It is for Parliament and not the Government to determine the Parliamentary procedure for a hybrid bill laid before it.” He noted, however, that a question then arose as to whether the principle of Article 9 might have been implicitly qualified or abrogated by the European Communities Act 1972 (at §78). This was a question of UK constitutional law and did not depend on the supremacy of EU law. Lords Neuberger and Mance, approaching the question from the other direction, likewise observed that it was “arguable” that UK law might include (in constitutional instruments such as the Bill of Rights or in fundamental rights recognised at common law) constitutional principles which had not been abrogated by the European Communities Act 1972, despite the supremacy of EU law for most purposes (at §§207-208). It was, however, not necessary to decide the issue, because the case was decided as a matter of interpretation of the EU Directive itself (at §116 and §211).

Even before the decision in HS2, in the context of a discussion of whether Select Committees should be granted greater coercive powers, Richard Gordon QC and Sir Malcolm Jack had commented that “Issues may… surface as to whether or not a standing order or a declaratory resolution in Parliament are, necessarily, immune from challenge in circumstances in which Select Committee procedures or outcomes are claimed to violate EU law or Convention rights under the ECHR” (or, as they earlier note, fundamental rights). (See ‘Parliamentary privilege: ‘Evolution or codification?’, at §120.)

Given the approach taken by the Supreme Court in HS2, it is at least “arguable” that  equalities legislation implementing EU law permits the courts to encroach on an area covered by exclusive cognisance and to ‘question’ parliamentary proceedings – though there is no doubt that the argument is a difficult one. In considering how best to resolve the conflict between parliamentary privilege on the one hand and EU equality law on the other, it is tempting to remind oneself of the purpose served by parliamentary privilege, namely the protection of freedom of speech in Parliament. Viewed with modern eyes and as a matter of substance, scrutiny of a standing order for the purposes of determining whether the mechanism of voting excludes older and disabled MPs would, of course, promote those MPs’ freedom to speak in Parliament. The implications of accepting such an argument would, it goes without saying, be wide-ranging.

Is there an EqA claim available?

MPs are not protected from discrimination in their workplace by Part 5 of the EqA because they are not employees or workers within the Act, and nor are they personal or public office holders (see s.52(5) which excludes elected public offices). Therefore, the provisions of the Act which apply to employment cannot be relied upon by MPs; they must look elsewhere in the Act for a basis for any claim that the motion requiring their attendance to vote is unlawfully discriminatory.

Could s.29 EqA assist? This section prohibits discrimination in the provision of services. It applies to the Houses of Parliament: s.31(8) states that the Corporate Officers of the Houses are service providers for the purposes of the section. Thus, for example, the Corporate Officers are subject to a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people and must ensure that the parliamentary estate is physically accessible. This is the duty by virtue of which ramps and lifts must be provided in the buildings. It would seem logical that the same duty should extend to ensuring that digital technology can be used by disabled and older MPs to safely cast their votes in the time of coronavirus.

However, Sch.3 EqA specifically excludes from the definition of “services” the exercise of “a function of Parliament” or “a function exercisable in connection with proceedings in Parliament”. On the face of it this looks like a dead end for the argument that the Corporate Officers’ role as providers of services extends to matters connected with votes in Parliament. But can a distinction be made between a vote in Parliament and the facilitation of a vote in Parliament? Why should a disabled MP be entitled to a ramp to get into the chamber to place her vote but not to digital voting technology to place her vote remotely? The provision of the technology would amount to the facilitation of functions exercisable in connection with proceedings in Parliament (i.e. voting); it is not a function in itself. It is surely strongly arguable that s.29 is engaged in the present circumstances on this basis. 

The courts have tended to carefully scrutinise any distinction between functions and services where the effect would be to oust the jurisdiction of equalities legislation. In Farah v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [1997] 1 All ER 289 , a case concerning the distinction between functions and services under the equivalent provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976 (‘RRA’), the Court of Appeal held that the performance of a public duty does not preclude the provision of a service and that police officers in assisting and protecting members of the public were acting in the same way as any other public service and were therefore subject to section 20 RRA.

In addition, the Court of Appeal considered the issue in relation to taxation in Savjani v Inland Revenue Commissioners [1981] 1 All ER 1121. Templeman LJ drew some interesting distinctions in the context of tax:

“The duty is to collect the right amount of revenue; but, in my judgment, there is a service to the taxpayer provided by the board and the inspector by the provision, dissemination and implementation of regulations which will enable the taxpayer to know that he is entitled to a deduction or a repayment, which will [enable] him to know how he is to satisfy the inspector or the board if he is so entitled, and which will enable him to obtain the actual deduction or repayment which Parliament said he is to have.”

It is also arguable that the definition of “functions” should be applied as narrowly as possible to achieve a purposive effect, and so that it is interpreted in accordance with our obligations pursuant to A3P1 and Article 14 ECHR and Article 29 UNCPRPD (discussed below).

Further, the same arguments about direct effect of EU law apply to the interpretation of the EqA as they do to the potential challenge to parliamentary privilege. Article 9(1) of Directive 2000/78 provides: “Member States shall ensure that judicial and/or administrative procedures, including where they deem it appropriate conciliation procedures, for the enforcement of obligations under this Directive are available to all persons who consider themselves wronged by failure to apply the principle of equal treatment to them….” Thus if Sch.3 EqA on its ordinary construction would preclude a claim by MPs facing discrimination in their occupation, it could be read down or disapplied.

Although MPs are not employees or workers within the domestic law definitions, ‘occupation’ has an autonomous meaning in the Directive, so that MPs could argue that they are in scope.

It may even be possible to seek an injunction in support of the rights under Article 9 of the Directive before the courts (see R v Secretary of State for Transport, Ex p Factortame Ltd (No 2) [1991] 1 AC 603).  MPs plainly are involved in legislative processes affecting areas governed by EU law, which has effect until the end of the year and the expiry of the transition period under Withdrawal legislation.

What claims could be made under the EqA?

The EqA sets out in Chapter 2, under the heading of prohibited conduct, the four types of discrimination which can be claimed in respect of a breach of a substantive provision. These are direct (s.13), discrimination because of something arising in consequence of disability (s.15) indirect (s.19) and a failure to make reasonable adjustments (s.20 and 21, plus the relevant Schedule).

There are a number of protected characteristics which may be engaged by the decision to withdraw remote voting since several groups may be adversely or disproportionately impacted by it. Disabled MPs, older MPs, MPs whose ethnicity predisposes them to a higher risk of Covid-19 and pregnant women, as well as MPs whose caring responsibilities or households include shielding persons may be seriously affected by the measure. Each of those categories of individuals may have claims falling into the different types of discrimination raised above.

Those who are unable to vote in person because they are themselves shielding are likely to have the protected characteristics of age and/or disability. In respect of age, a requirement to attend parliament to vote would form the basis of an indirect discrimination claim – being a provision criterion or practice (“pcp”) that is applied to everyone, puts those of a particular age – over 70 – at a particular disadvantage compared to those who do not share that age (given that those below 70 are not considered more vulnerable to the virus on the basis of age); and would put an individual claiming indirect discrimination at that disadvantage if they were unable to vote as a result. The pcp would have to be justified as being a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim by the Defendant to the claim.

Those who are disabled would have a similar indirect discrimination claim, as attending to vote in person would also put them at a particular disadvantage (the claim would have to be based on a particular disability). In addition, however, there could be a claim for a failure to make reasonable adjustments – again, based on the pcp (s.20(3) and Schedule 2). A reasonable adjustments claims is not subject to justification, though the determination of what is “reasonable” or not will often serve the same function. In the alternative a claim could be made for an auxiliary service (s.20(5)) in the form of electronic voting, without which disabled people would be placed at a particular disadvantage – such a claim avoids having to show particular disadvantage caused by the pcp.  A section 15 claim (“discrimination arising from disability”) would be available if a vote had taken place and an individual had been unable to participate in the vote as a result. These provisions tend to overlap (see Griffiths v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2015] EWCA Civ 1265 for an analysis of the difference between the types of discrimination in disability cases).

Women MPs who are affected by the voting arrangements because they are pregnant, or MPs are affected because of caring responsibilities may also have claims for indirect discrimination. Similarly, if MPs cannot leave the house because they live with those who are shielding, there may be a claim for indirect disability discrimination based on association following CHEZ Razpredelenie Bulgaria AD v Komisia za zashtita ot diskriminatsia (C-83/14) [2016] 1 CMLR 14 (also discussed below in relation to MPs’ constituents).

It is important, too, to recall the disproportionate impact sustained by BAME groups through the COVID-19 crisis. Those MPs may also have indirect discrimination claims.

Could the withdrawal of remote voting be challenged as a breach of human rights?

An alternative avenue for challenge would be under human rights legislation.

The European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’) is incorporated into domestic law by the Human Rights Act 1998 (‘HRA’). Ordinarily, the remedy for the victim of a human rights breach in the UK would be obtained via a judicial review or claim under the HRA. However, this could prove difficult in the case of parliamentary voting procedures. A Standing Order is not a statute or statutory instrument, and therefore cannot be declared incompatible with human rights obligations under s.4 HRA. The House of Commons is excluded from the definition of a public authority at s.6(3) HRA and therefore is not susceptible to challenge by way of a claim under s.7 HRA. A human rights challenge in the domestic courts therefore poses particular difficulties. Further, the same considerations of parliamentary privilege apply, which amount to a potential barrier to litigating the issue in the domestic courts.

At the time of writing, we are still considering potential alternative avenues but we recognise that there are no easy solutions.

Strasbourg challenge?

In the absence of a domestic remedy, affected MPs could theoretically make an application to the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) in Strasbourg. This may not be an attractive option in practical terms as it would cause political controversy. It may also be possible to make a request for interim measures from the Strasbourg court on the basis that this is an exceptional situation where the UK faces a real risk of serious, irreversible harm to its democratic procedure if a wide range of MPs with protected characteristics (and their constituents) are disenfranchised by the withdrawal of a remote voting mechanism. The MPs’ ability to raise urgent questions in debate is being deprived, and that is a matter that cannot be remedied after the event. 

Council of Europe – Political Affairs Committee

And there is another possible route to a remedy based on the ECHR and connected obligations.  The Council of Europe (‘CoE’) has overall responsibility for the Convention.  The CoE has taken a major interest in the way through the new challenges to democracy arising from Covid-19.  Its Political Affairs Committee has met frequently (remotely) to address these issues and among others it has had presentations from UK Parliamentarians On 28 May, this Committee met in a session chaired by Dame Cheryl Gillian, Conservative MP for Chesham and Amersham to discuss the key question “In a crisis situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic where an executive, facing a number of constraints, has to take immediate action  how can parliaments adjust their role as guarantors of stability and democratic legitimacy?[2]  The report of the Committee will be published soon.  Whatever the Committee concludes would certainly be of interest to the ECtHR if a complaint was made.

What are the rights engaged in this situation?

A3P1

Article 3 of the First Protocol to the ECHR (‘A3P1’) imposes an obligation on the state “to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.” At first glance, this imposes an obligation to hold general elections. Strasbourg case law has established that it also goes further and guarantees individual rights: to vote; to stand for election; and “to sit as a member once he has been elected by the people ” (see Commission decision M v United Kingdomand Sadak v Turkey (no. 2), ECHR 2002-IVat §33). Since then, several cases have dealt with the situation where an elected member has been deprived of his or her seat, whether by a change to eligibility criteria or other mechanism. See e.g. the case of Paunović and Milivojević v Serbia Appn No 41683/06, in which the Court explained at §59-60:

“…the rights guaranteed under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 are crucial to establishing and maintaining the foundations of an effective and meaningful democracy governed by the rule of law. Nonetheless, these rights are not absolute. There is room for “implied limitations”, and Contracting States must be given a margin of appreciation in this sphereThe Court reaffirms that the margin in this area is wide … There are numerous ways of organising and running electoral systems and a wealth of differences, inter alia, in historical development, cultural diversity and political thought within Europe, which it is for each Contracting State to mould into its own democratic vision …

It is, however, for the Court to determine in the last resort whether the requirements of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 have been complied with. It has to satisfy itself that the conditions do not curtail the rights in question to such an extent as to impair their very essence and deprive them of their effectiveness; that they are imposed in pursuit of a legitimate aim; and that the means employed are not disproportionate ”

It would be a consistent and incremental development to argue that a functional barrier preventing an elected representative from voting in Parliament would engage A3P1. Does the withdrawal of remote voting in the context of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic curtail affected MPs’ rights “to such an extent as to impair their very essence and deprive them of their effectiveness”? There are strong arguments to suggest that many MPs will be prevented from participating in parliamentary democracy, thereby depriving potentially millions of constituents of an elected voice within it. This is their core democratic function. The current explanations for the aim of such withdrawal are unclear and imprecise. Unlike other provisions, such as Article 8-11 of the Convention, there is no specific list of legitimate aims with which the state has to comply. Instead, the concept of “implied limitation” would permit the state to rely on a different aim and it would not face the tests of “necessity” or “pressing social need.” However, given the potential severity of the effect on voters, and on parliamentary democracy itself, it may be sufficient to undermine and impede the general and underlying objectives of the Convention in the circumstances. Moreover, the functioning of the remote voting system that has been in place until now may also impact upon the proportionality of the measure taken.

Article 14

Further, Article 14 ECHR provides: “The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”

Art.14 is a parasitic right, which arises where another substantive ECHR right is engaged. There need not be a breach of the substantive right. Applying Art.14 in conjunction with A3P1 prohibits states from affording access to the right to sit as an elected member in a discriminatory manner. Sex, race, age and disability all qualify as a ‘status’ protected under this Article. So, for example, in the case of Alajos Kiss v Hungary (Appn No 33832/06) the imposition of an automatic, blanket restriction on the franchise of those under partial guardianship due to a mental disability was held to breach A3P1. The Court did not need to go on to consider Art.14 but the decision was informed by the consideration of disability rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (‘UNCRPD’).

In the current situation, MPs’ unequal access to voting infrastructure may amount to discrimination in breach of Art.14. Discrimination can be direct, defined by the Strasbourg Court for these purposes as: “when States treat differently persons in analogous situations without providing an objective and reasonable justification”. Or indirect: “when States without an objective and reasonable justification fail to treat differently persons whose situations are significantly different” (Thlimmenos v Greece (2001) 31 EHRR 15 §44).

The situation of a clinically vulnerable or older (70+) MP, or an MP from an ethnic minority at particular risk, or indeed a pregnant MP is ‘significantly different’ from that of healthier and younger colleagues, when it comes to travelling into Parliament and attending voting procedures since the risk factor for these protected characteristics is so increased. There needs to be an objective and reasonable justification for putting such MPs in a dilemma between facing risk of serious harm and losing the ability to represent their constituents. It may prove difficult for the UK government to establish such justification because the alternative mechanism of remote voting has been available until recently and grounds for removal remain unclear.

Associative discrimination?

There is also an interesting question as to whether constituents of affected MPs might also have standing to complain of associative indirect discrimination. In the case of CHEZ Razpredelenie Bulgaria, a resident of an area affected by an adverse measure aimed at the local Roma population was held by the Court of Justice of the European Union to have an associative claim for race discrimination, despite not being Roma herself. It may be possible for constituents of affected MPs to argue by analogy that they have been disadvantaged by their MP’s discriminatory exclusion from the parliamentary voting process.

Impact of the UNCRPD

When interpreting the relevant provisions of the ECHR (and also the general principles of EU law referred to above) a court would have regard to the provisions of the UNCRPD.  In particular, Article 29 of the UNCRPD sets out the framework for participation in political and public life.   It stipulates that state parties shall “guarantee to persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on equal basis with others”, including the right to “to effectively hold office and perform all public functions at all levels of government, facilitating the use of assistive and new technologies where appropriate”.

Article 29 recognises that the mere titular holding of an office is insufficient to guarantee effective participation.  Instead the rights under domestic and ECHR law must include the right effectively to hold hoffice and perform public functions.  This lends weight to the argument that a set of Standing Orders which, in the context of the outbreak, bars a MP from participating in votes unless physically present is unlawful.

Conclusion

The ability of MPs to participate in the parliamentary process on an equal basis regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, sex and carer status engages fundamental equality and human rights principles. The legal mechanisms for enforcing these principles through the courts are far from straightforward. We add a note of caution that, by necessity, we have considered these issues at speed and will continue to develop our analysis if required. However, although the legal issues are technical, the basic question is not. What kind of democracy are we, if our elected representatives can be excluded from carrying out their democratic functions because of, or for reasons relating, to their age, race, sex or state of health? The House of Commons must prioritise equal and non-discriminatory access to secure effective representation for all voters and to set an example for the country. In our view, in a twenty-first century parliamentary democracy, a legal challenge based on such fundamental principles should not be necessary.


[1] In theory if all 650 MPs queued to vote at 2 metre intervals, the line would stretch for 1.3km! https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/mps-erupt-in-fury-over-reesmoggs-conga-line-plan-for-parliament-a4456646.html

[2] The members of the Committee shared experiences and heard from Rik Daems, President of PACE; Oliver Kask, Chairperson of the Council of Democratic Elections of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and judge of the Court of Appeal of Estonia; Iain Cameron, member of the Venice Commission and Professor at Uppsala University (Sweden); and Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit in the Department of Political Science at University College London (United Kingdom).