Watkins v Woolas: QBD 5 Nov 2010

The petitioner said that in the course of the election campaign, the respondent Labour candidate had used illegal practices in the form of deliberately misleading and racially inflammatory material.
Held: The claim succeeded, and the election result was set aside. The defendant had made several untrue statements relating to the character of the petitioner, fully aware that he had no reasonable ground for thinking them true.
The earlier case law still applied save as required to reflect the Human Rights Act. However: ‘section 106 is directed at protecting the right of the electorate to express its choice at an election, which right is protected by Article 3 of the First Protocol. Section 106 seeks to ensure that the electorate expresses its opinion in the choice of the legislature on the basis of facts and competing policy arguments rather than on false assertions as to the personal character or conduct of the candidates. That can properly be described as a pressing social need. Section 106 is also directed at protecting the reputation of candidates at an election which is protected by article 8 of the ECHR. In truth the two interests, that of the electorate and of other candidates, overlap or converge. False statements which relate to a candidate’s personal character or conduct distort, or may distort, the electorate’s choice and hence the democratic process.’ The provisions of the Act were proportionate.
The court made use of defamation law to identify the difference between comment and assertions of fact.

Teare J, Griffith Williams J
[2010] EWHC 2702 (QB)
Representation of the People Act 1983 106 120, European Convention on Human Rights 10
England and Wales
CitedThe North Division of the County of Louth 1911
Madden J explained the Act: ‘The Act of 1895 afforded a further protection to constituencies and to candidates. The mischief against which it was directed was an abuse of the right of free discussion by the dissemination among a constituency of . .
CitedFairbairn v Scottish National Party 1979
Lord Ross held that a statement made during the course of an election campaign, which suggested that the pursuer (a member of parliament) did not collect his constituency mail from the House of Commons Post office was an attack on his character as a . .
CitedBowman v The United Kingdom ECHR 19-Feb-1998
UK Electoral law went too far to restrict freedom of speech when limiting the amounts spent by third parties discussing candidates. The legislative provision in question was held to operate, for all practical purposes, as a total barrier to Mrs . .
CitedRegina v Rowe, ex parte Mainwaring and Others CA 27-May-1992
An allegation of ‘undue influence’ in an election required proof of both a fraudulent device and some real influence. The court was satisfied that it would not be desirable to have a different standard of proof in different courts on the same issue. . .
CitedSheldrake v Director of Public Prosecutions; Attorney General’s Reference No 4 of 2002 HL 14-Oct-2004
Appeals were brought complaining as to the apparent reversal of the burden of proof in road traffic cases and in cases under the Terrorism Acts. Was a legal or an evidential burden placed on a defendant?
Held: Lord Bingham of Cornhill said: . .
CitedRegina v Johnstone HL 22-May-2003
The defendant was convicted under the 1994 Act of producing counterfeit CDs. He argued that the affixing of the name of the artist to the CD was not a trade mark use, and that the prosecution had first to establish a civil offence before his act . .
CitedRegina v Shayler HL 21-Mar-2002
The defendant had been a member of the security services. On becoming employed, and upon leaving, he had agreed to keep secret those matters disclosed to him. He had broken those agreements and was being prosecuted. He sought a decision that the . .
CitedHayward v Thompson CA 1981
A later publication by the same defendant can be used to identify the plaintiff in an earlier publication. If the defendant did intend to refer to the plaintiff, it may be enough if the recipient understood it as referring to the plaintiff . .
CitedSkuse v Granada Television CA 30-Mar-1993
The claimant complained that the defendant had said in a television programme that he had failed to act properly when presenting his expert forensic evidence in court in the trial of the Birmingham Six.
Held: The court should give to the . .
CitedBonnick v Morris, The Gleaner Company Ltd and Allen PC 17-Jun-2002
(Jamaica) The appellant sought damages from the respondent journalists in defamation. They had claimed qualified privilege. The words alleged to be defamatory were ambiguous.
Held: The publishers were protected by Reynolds privilege. The court . .
CitedBritish Chiropractic Association v Dr Simon Singh CA 1-Apr-2010
The defendant appealed against a ruling that the words in an article – ‘This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments’ – were statements of fact, and were not comment.
Cited by:
See AlsoWoolas, Regina (on The Application of) v The Speaker of The House of Commons Admn 3-Dec-2010
The claimant sought to challenge the decision of an Election court setting aside his election as a Member of Parliament. The court was asked to decide whether it had jurisdiction to review a determination by the Election Court of a point of law, and . .
CitedErlam and Others v Rahman and Another QBD 23-Apr-2015
The petitioners had alleged that the respondent, in his or his agent’s conduct of his campaign to be elected Mayor for Tower Hamlets in London in May 2014, had engaged in corrupt and illegal practices.
Held: The election was set aside for . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Elections, Human Rights

Leading Case

Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.425808