A few years ago Derek contacted our helpline for some advice around standing for election as a local councillor.
Despite the role of a local councillor being covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, the Electoral Commission guidance stated that any individual who had received a prison sentence of 3 months or more (including a suspended sentence) in the previous five years was unable to stand to become a local councillor. Derek explained that he’d served a short prison sentence of just over 3 months and this meant that he would be disqualified for standing as a councillor despite his conviction being spent three years earlier than that 5-year rule.
Following amendments to the ROA in March 2014, the time it takes for a conviction to become spent had been reduced significantly and we felt that these changes should be reflected in the Electoral Commission guidance.
We wrote to the Electoral Commission seeking clarification on the following points:
- Whether changes to the ROA were applicable to local councillors meaning that individuals would be eligible to stand for election once their conviction was spent?
- Confirmation of the timescales and criteria set out in the Commission’s guidance around eligibility.
The Electoral Commission said that we’d raised some complex issues, which had to be referred to the Department for Communities and Local Government, the government department responsible for the legislation regarding local councillors.
Over the next couple of years we continued to correspond with the Electoral Commission and the Department for Communities and Local Government and in October 2017 the Department for Communities and Local Government contacted us to say:
“The current disqualification criteria were established over 40 years ago and Ministers want to update them to reflect the new options that exist to protect the public and address unlawful and unacceptable behaviour by elected members. Government is proposing to update the disqualification criteria to capture anyone who is subject to the notification requirements set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (commonly referred to as ‘being on the sex offenders register’) or who is subject to certain anti-social behaviour sanctions.
You may wish to note the proposals do not apply retrospectively. Having announced the consultation, the Government has no current plans to make any further policy announcements on this policy area but may do so at the point any legislation is enacted.”
We are disappointed with the response as it appears to be making the disqualification criteria more onerous, rather than bringing it in line with the ROA.
We await to see what legislation the Government enact regarding becoming a local councillor.
- Practical information: Local councillor
Notes about this case study
This case study relates to Unlock’s casework.
Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.