When You Challenge an Election Result UK
In most cases, you can challenge the result of an election if you believe it was not run according to election rules.
Challenging a UK Parliament election can take place if (any can apply):
- You had the legal right to vote in it.
- You were an unsuccessful candidate.
- You were left off the ballot.
You can also make a challenge about the results of a local government election. You would have needed to be left off the ballot or be part of a group of four (4) or more people with the right to vote in the election.
Deadline for Challenging an Election Result
As a general rule, election challenges must take place within 21 days of the date when:
- A local government election was held.
- The Clerk of the Crown in Chancery returns the result of a UK Parliament election.
A judge can allow people to challenge election results after the three week deadline, if:
- There may have been corrupt or illegal practices (e.g. cases of bribery).
- The complaint is about election expenses (e.g. the winner spent more money than they were allowed to).
How to Issue an Election Petition
You would need to make an application to the Election Petitions Office to challenge the result of an election. This process is also called ‘issuing an election petition’. You would need to send them:
- An election petition
- An application to pay ‘security for costs’ (details below)
Note: The Election Petitions Office needs to stamp the petition before ‘serving’ it to the ‘respondents’. You would then be able to apply to set up a date for a hearing.
The Petition Must State:
- The result of the election and the date that it took place.
- Why you can challenge the result and the reason for challenging it (e.g. you believe the votes were not counted correctly).
- What you would like to happen next (e.g. a recount).
You would need to give the date that the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery received the result to challenge a UK Parliament election. You can get this information from the ‘returning officer’ (person who oversaw the election).
HM Courts and Tribunals Service produce a sample ‘election petition template‘ used to question a European, a parliamentary, or a local government election result in the High Court.
Note: The challenger must ‘personally’ sign the petition (not a solicitor). Likewise, all the members of a group challenge must sign the petition.
Application for ‘Security for Costs’
The application to pay ‘security for costs’ covers the cost of going to court. You must use ‘Form N244 (application notice) for this purpose. Send the application to pay ‘security for costs’, the petition, and the correct fees to the Election Petitions Office.
- Cost to issue a petition is £569
- Cost to apply for ‘security for costs’ is £108
Cheques and postal orders should be made payable to ‘HM Courts and Tribunals Service’. They must receive the documents and fees no later than the last day of when you can make a challenge.
You can hand deliver a petition to the Election Petitions Office on weekdays between 9:30am and 4:30pm. But, it must be no later than midnight on the last day you can apply.
Petitions can go in the letterbox (opposite room E113) when the office is closed. So, you would need to phone the Royal Courts of Justice to get access to the letterbox.
Note: You would need to ‘swear an affidavit’ in front of a solicitor or a notary public the next working day. The sworn statement must confirm the day and the time that you placed the petition inside the letterbox.
Payment of ‘Security for Costs’
After making an application, you will then receive information from the Election Petitions Office about the fees for ‘security for costs’. The maximum you should pay is:
- £1,500 (for a parish council election)
- £2,500 (for a local government election)
- £5,000 (for a UK or European Parliamentary election)
You can choose between paying cash or giving the names of up to four people to act as ‘sureties’. They would be making a guarantee to pay the costs.
You must pay ‘security for costs’ within three (3) working days of presenting the petition. As a rule, you would get the ‘security for costs’ returned after winning the case.
Note: You might get help paying court fees if you have little savings (or none), have a low income, or getting certain benefits. Losing the case, or stopping it, means you may need to pay extra costs.
Serving the Election Petition
You should not contact the ‘respondents’ until the Elections Petitions Office stamps the petition. You must then ‘serve’ the petition to the people you are complaining about within five (5) working days of paying ‘security for costs’.
Send each respondent, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, copies of:
- A ‘notice of presentation’ from the solicitor (if you are using one).
- The petition that you sent to the Election Petitions Office.
- The letter from the Election Petitions Office that shows the amount of ‘security for costs’ and the method of payment (cash or guarantees).
- Affidavits from the ‘sureties’ if relevant (i.e. people who guarantee to pay).
Director of Public Prosecutions
2 Southwark Bridge
You can send documents in person, by first class post, or through a solicitor. The court considers documents as ‘served’ two (2) days after they were posted (if a working day) or the next working day (if not).
Note: One of the respondents has to be the person who won the election. This rule applies even if feel they did nothing wrong during the election.
At the Hearing and Trial
Contact the Election Petitions Office within 28 days of the petition being stamped to set a date for the hearing. If you don’t, the respondents would have 28 days to apply themselves and make other requests, such as having the petition ‘set aside’.
Note: If no one applies to set a date for the hearing it will be determined by a judge.
A judge might choose to appoint a commissioner at the hearing to manage the complaint. If so, the commissioner would look at all the evidence in detail (e.g. checking all the voting slips).
The commissioner may decide to set a trial. As a rule, a trial would take place at a court in the same constituency where the election result was challenged.
All parties would get a chance to present their cases to the commissioner and call witnesses to give evidence at a trial.
It can take several weeks to get a final judgment after the trial. Both parties would be called to attend a meeting with the commissioner to find out the outcome. You would not be able to appeal the decision.