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Basildon Borough Council (18 006 431)

Category : Other Categories > Elections and electoral register

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 03 Sep 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman cannot investigate Mr X’s complaint the electoral office did not deal with his complaint about the actions of an electoral agent at a polling station. This is because complaints about the electoral functions of the Returning Officer are not within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains the electoral office failed to answer his complaint about the actions of an electoral agent at a polling station. He says this undermined his defence in a criminal case. Mr X complains it will do the same for a proposed civil case against them for the actions of the electoral officer.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out the Ombudsman’s powers but also imposes limits on what we can investigate.
  2. We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)
  3. Returning Officers organize elections. They are Council officers, but are appointed under the Representation of the People Act 1983, and are not carrying out administrative functions of the Council. When they are carrying out their electoral functions they do not come within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(1))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered all the information put in by Mr X with his complaint.
  2. Mr X had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr X complained the electoral office did not respond to his letter of complaint about the actions of an electoral agent at a polling station.
  2. Mr X says he wrote to complain again and they finally sent a letter. He says they justified their failure to answer his complaint because he was involved in a court case, following an altercation with the electoral officer.
  3. Mr X complains the electoral office claimed it would not be proper to consider his complaint or comment on the matter while it was subject to a police investigation and later legal proceedings.
  4. Mr X says he asked the electoral office to interview all witnesses to the altercation. He says if this had happened there would have been a different result in his criminal court case.

Analysis

  1. Mr X’s complaint is about the actions of the Returning Officer and their appointed officers.
  2. Returning Officers act in a personal capacity, not for the Council. They are not carrying out administrative functions of the Council. We cannot investigate what Returning Officers, or their staff, do.
  3. A further bar to the Ombudsman’s ability to investigate Mr X’s complaint is that it has been the subject of court proceedings. The Ombudsman cannot investigate a complaint about what happened in court.
  4. The complaint is not within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman cannot investigate this complaint. This is because it is about the actions of the Returning Officer and their appointed officers. The underlying matter has also been the subject of court proceedings. This means the complaint is outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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