Monday, 30 Nov 2020

MPs take UK government to court over Russia meddling probe

LONDON (AFP) – A group of British lawmakers on Thursday (Oct 29) launched court proceedings against the government for its “failure” to open an independent probe into Russian electoral interference and urged new measures to prevent future malpractice.

The group applied for judicial review, claiming the government’s actions breached obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights that protect each citizen’s right to free and fair elections.

The claim follows the long-delayed publication in July by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) of a report on alleged Russian interference.

The report said it could not come to firm conclusions about any Russian meddling in the 2016 referendum on Britain’s EU membership and a 2014 poll on Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom, which the “no” camp won.

But ISC member and Labour MP Kevan Jones said this was because the UK government “actively avoided asking the question”.

The July report said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government “took its eye off the ball”, and critics pointed to the Conservative party’s links to wealthy Russian donors as one explanation for official inaction against Moscow.

Members of the group seeking judicial review include Labour MPs Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and former Conservative peer Patience Wheatcroft, along with The Citizens, a democracy campaign group.

They contested the “government’s failure to institute an independent investigation into Russian interference in UK democratic processes, and to put in place an adequate legislative framework to protect future elections from foreign interference”.

The group said there was “an urgent need for new legislation” to protect Britain’s democratic processes, calling for a new body charged with countering foreign interference.

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The Citizens contrasted the UK response to the United States, where multiple investigations including by US intelligence agencies have concluded Russia did try to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“In Britain, that process hasn’t even begun. We hope this will be the beginning of that process,” it said.

Ms Wheatcroft said the Internet had “opened the way for widespread potential interference… from malign forces”.

“The government must do its best to protect our electoral system… it is shameful that it refuses to do that voluntarily,” she added.

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