Documents to download

The Elections Act 2022 introduced a new penalty, disqualification orders, for the offence of intimidatory behaviour towards election candidates and campaigners, which came into force in November 2023.

The Act also modernised the definition of ‘undue influence’, used to refer to compelling or inducing someone to vote a particular way. The new definition includes a wider range of intimidatory activities, including exerting spiritual influence.

Intimidation of candidates

There has been increasing concern about the intimidation and threats received by elected representatives and candidates. In October 2019, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report, Democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of association: Threats to MPs. It drew attention to the ongoing threats to MPs and people standing for office.

Following the 2017 General Election, the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, asked the Committee on Standards in Public Life to conduct a short review of the issue of intimidation experienced by parliamentary candidates and in public life more broadly.

The Committee’s report was published in December 2017. One of the recommendations was that the Government should consult on a new crime in electoral law of intimidating candidates during an election period.

In March 2018 the Cabinet Office responded to the Committee’s report and committed to consulting on a new electoral offence of intimidation of candidates. The Government published its consultation document on 29 July 2018, Protecting the Debate: Intimidation, Influence, and Information and the response to the consultation was published in May 2019. The provisions resulting from the consultation were included in the Elections Act 2022.

Disqualification orders

The Elections Act 2022 introduced a new penalty rather than creating a new offence. The penalty can be imposed for people convicted of existing intimidatory offences when the intimidation is directed at election candidates or campaigners during a referendum. It is designed to deter intimidatory behaviour during an election or referendum period.

These are called disqualification orders and can be imposed in addition to any sentence resulting from a criminal conviction. A disqualification order disqualifies the person convicted from holding elected office for five years.

The disqualification order applies to all elected offices in the UK except for membership of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government. After consulting on proposals, the Scottish Government introduced legislation in January 2024 that includes provisions to extend disqualification orders for membership of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government.

Intimidation of voters

This briefing also examines ‘undue influence’, the electoral offence of intimidating voters. It is one of the ‘classic’ electoral fraud crimes that date from the Victorian era, when electoral fraud was commonplace.

In 2016 the Law Commission recommended the law on undue influence should be modernised. It said it should be restated as an offence of intimidation, deception, and improper pressure on voters.

Another report in 2016 on electoral fraud by Lord Pickles, then the Government’s anti-fraud tsar, also recommended changes to the offence of undue influence. He was concerned about the level of intimidation of voters outside polling stations and spiritual influence of faith leaders. He wanted to ensure voters of any faith were protected from having their religious beliefs manipulated in order to prevent them freely exercising their vote.

The Government’s 2018 consultation, Protecting the Debate, included questions on the scope of undue influence. It intended to maintain the general purpose of the offence, that it should refer to threats of violence, non-physical threats of harm, and duress, including from people in people in positions of power such as faith leaders.

This led to provisions in the Elections Act 2022. These modernised the definition of undue influence for reserved elections. Elections to the Scottish and Welsh parliaments and Scottish and Welsh local council elections retain the old definition.

Documents to download

Related posts