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Table of Contents

  1. Acknowledgments
  2. Chapter one: Defining the constitution
  3. Chapter two: Parliamentary sovereignty
  4. Chapter three: The rule of law and the separation of powers
  5. Chapter four: The royal prerogative
  6. Chapter five: The House of Commons
  7. Chapter six: The House of Lords
  8. Chapter seven: The electoral system
    1. Parliament (Qualification of Women Act) 1918
    2. Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986
    3. Hipperson and others v Electoral Registration Officer for the District of Newbury [1985] 1 QB 1060; [1985] 2 All ER 456 (CA)
    4. Sanders and Another v Chichester and Another [1994] November 11 (QBD)
    5. R v Tronoh Mines and Others [1952] 1 All ER 697; 35 Cr App Rep 196
    6. Director of Public Prosecutions v Luft and Another [1976] 2 All ER 569, [1976] 3 WLR 32
    7. Curtice J. (2005) 'Turnout: electors stay home again' Parliamentary Affairs 776.
  9. Chapter eight: Parliamentary privilege
  10. Chapter nine: Constitutional conventions
  11. Chapter ten: Local government
  12. Chapter eleven: Parliamentary sovereignty within the European Union
  13. Chapter twelve: The governance of Scotland and Wales
  14. Chapter thirteen: Substantive grounds of judicial review 1: illegality, irrationality and proportionality
  15. Chapter fourteen: Procedural grounds of judicial review
  16. Chapter fifteen: Challenging governmental decisions: the process
  17. Chapter sixteen: Locus standi
  18. Chapter seventeen: Human rights I: Traditional perspectives
  19. Chapter eighteen: Human rights II: Emergent principles
  20. Chapter nineteen: Human rights III: New substantive grounds of review
  21. Chapter twenty: Human rights IV: The Human Rights Act 1998
  22. Chapter twenty-one: Human rights V: The impact of The Human Rights Act 1998
  23. Chapter twenty-two: Human rights VI: Governmental powers of arrest and detention
  24. Chapter twenty-three: Leaving the European Union

Director of Public Prosecutions v Luft and Another [1976] 2 All ER 569, [1976] 3 WLR 32

LORD DIPLOCK: My Lords, at the Parliamentary General Election held in October 1974 candidates representing a political party known as the National Front stood for election in three Lancashire constituencies, Blackley, Bolton East and Bolton West. In all three constituencies candidates representing the Labour, Conservative and Liberal parties were also standing for election, and in the Bolton West constituency there was a fifth candidate who described himself as a 'More Prosperous Britain' candidate.

The respondents Luft and Atkinson were members of an association calling itself the 'Greater Manchester Anti-Fascist Committee'. The respondent Duffield was a member of the 'Bolton Anti-Fascist Committee'. All three respondents were strongly opposed to the policies advocated by the National Front. In the course of the election campaign, Luft and Atkinson distributed in the Blackley constituency and Duffield distributed in the Bolton East and Bolton West constituencies pamphlets urging voters 'Don't Vote National Front' and accusing members of that political party of being liars and fascists.

Each of the respondents was charged with offences under s 63 of the Representation of the People Act 1949 of incurring, without authorisation in writing of an election agent, the expense of issuing publications with a view to promoting or procuring the election of a candidate at the partliamentary election in the constituency in which that respondent had distributed pamphlets; and also with offences under s 95 of the 1949 Act of causing to be distributed for the like purpose a printed document which did not bear on its face the name and address of the printer and publisher.


The charges against Luft and Atkinson were heard in the Manchester city magistrates' court by the stipendiary magistrate. He dismissed them on the ground that to constitute an offence under either section it was necessary to prove an intention on the part of the accused to promote or procure the election of one particular candidate only; an intention to prevent the return of one out of three or more candidates did not suffice.

The charges against Duffield were heard by the justices at the Bolton magistrates' court. They took a different view of the law from the stipendiary magistrate. The respondent Duffield was convicted and fined 10 for each offence.

Appeals were brought by way of case stated against both decisions. They were heard together by the Divisonal Court. The appeal against the acquittal of Luft and Atkinson was dismissed; that of Duffield against his conviction was allowed. The Divisional Court certified that a point of general public importance was involved in their decisions, namely:


'Whether on a prosecution under s 63 of the Representation of the People Act 1949 it is necessary to prove that expense was incurred with a view to promoting or procuring the election of a particular candidate and insufficient to establish that the view or motive of the person incurring the expense was to prevent the election of a particular candidate.'

Leave to appeal, which had been refused by the Divisional Court, was granted by their Lordships' House in both cases and the appeals were heard as consolidated appeals.

Section 63(1) of the Representation of the People Act 1949 is one of a number of sections designed to limit the amount of money which a candidate and his supporters may spend on soliciting the votes of the electors in the constituency in which he is standing for election. It reads as follows:

'No expenses shall, with a view to promoting or procuring the election of a candidate at an election, be incurred by any person other than the candidate, his election agent and persons authorised in writing by the election agent on account -- (a) of holding public meetings or organising any public display; or (b) of issuing advertisements, circulars or publications; or (c) of otherwise presenting to the electors the candidate or his views or the extent or nature of his backing or disparaging another candidate:

Provided that paragraph (c) of this subsection shall not -- (i) restrict the publication of any matter relating to the election in a newspaper or other periodical...'


Expenditure under s 63(1) which has been authorised by the election agent of a candidate is treated as part of the election expenses of the candidate and counts against the maximum amount which may be spent on his behalf.

By sub-s (5) a person who incurs any expenses in contravention of this section is guilty of a corrupt practice.

Section 95(1) reads as follows:


'A person shall not -- (a) print or publish, or cause to be printed or published, any bill, placard or poster having reference to an election or any printed document distributed for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of a candidate, or (b) post or cause to be posted any such bill, placard or poster as aforesaid, or (c) distribute or cause to be distributed any printed document for the said purpose, unless the bill, placard, poster or document bears upon the face thereof the name and address of the printer and publisher.'

By subs-s (3) a contravention of this section is made an illegal practice.

Before 1948, the predecessor of s 63(1) had been s 34(1) of the Representation of the People Act 1918. This was in the following terms:


'A person other than the election agent of a candidate shall not incur any expenses on account of holding public meetings or issuing advertisements, circulars or publications for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of any candidate at a parliamentary election, unless he is authorised in writing to do so by such election agent.'


Its application to facts very similar to those in the instant appeals had been considered by the Court of Criminal Appeal in R v Hailwood and Ackroyd Ltd ([1928] 2 KB 277). In that case, during a parliamentary by-election in which there were three candidates, Conservative, Liberal and Labour, the accused had incurred expenses on account of issuing publications which were antagonistic to the Conservative candidate and advised the constituents not to vote for him, but did not in express terms advise them to vote for either of the other candidates. It was held by the court that this constituted an offence under s 34(1). In delivering the judgment of the court, Avory J [at 281] said:

"It is now suggested that, in a case like the present, where there are three candidates representing three different political parties, Conservative, Liberal and Labour, if a person who is not authorized by the election agent of a candidate incurs expenses of the kind in question he cannot be convicted under the section, which prohibits the incurring of the expenses for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of "any candidate," unless it be shown definitely that he had the intention of promoting or procuring the election of one of these three candidates in particular. The answer to that suggestion is that the expression "any candidate" in the section is not limited to one candidate only, since it is provided by the Interpretation Act, 1889 (52 & 53 Vict. c. 63), s. 1, sub-s. (1)(b), that words in the singular shall include the plural. It is further said that the appellant is not liable, inasmuch as while he endeavoured to prevent the election of one of the candidates, he did not directly promote or procure the election of any of them. If, however, a person has done what is forbidden by the section for a purpose which must have the effect of promoting or procuring the election of a candidate or candidates then there can be no question that he has committed an offence under the section."


In the view of the Divisional Court in the instant case, the difference in language between s 34(1) of the 1918 Act and s 63(1) of the 1949 Act and, in particular, the substitution of the words 'with a view to promoting or procuring the election of a candidate' for the corresponding words 'for the purpose of promoting or procuring, the election of any candidate' gave to the new section a meaning which had the effect of overruling the decision in R v Hailwood and Ackroyd Ltd.

In their Lordships' view, so far as the meaning of the subsection is concerned, no significance can be attached to these substitutions (which I have italicised). The substantive alteration to s 34(1) of the 1918 Act which was effected by s 63(1) of the 1949 Act was to add to the matters on which expenses could not be incurred without the written authority of an election agent. In order to make this addition, the draftsman found it necessary to re-arrange the order of words which his predecessor had adopted in s 34(1). In this re-arrangement the retention of the phrase 'for the purpose of' would have been inelegant as a matter of draftsmanship as compared with the use of the equivalent phrase 'with a view to' to convey the same meaning. Similarly the substitution of 'a' for 'any' was called for as a matter of draftsmanship by the subsequent references to 'the candidate' and 'another candidate'. In my view these substitutions are stylistic only. The substituted words mean the same as those which fell to be construed in R v Hailwood and Ackroyd Ltd [1928] 2 KB 277.

The construction placed by the Court of Criminal Appeal on s 34(1) of the 1918 Act had stood unchallenged for 20 years by the time what is now s 63(1) of the 1949 Act was first enacted by s 42(1) of the Representation of the People Act 1948. Had Parliament intended to overrule it, it would have done so explicitly and not inferentially by the substitution of one phrase for another which is apparently synonymous. R v Hailwood and Ackroyd Ltd [1928] 2 KB 277 remains strong persuasive authority; but it is still for your Lordships to decide for yourselves whether it is right and governs the instant appeals.

In argument before this House, counsel for the respondents did not seek to rely on any difference in meaning between 'with a view to' and 'for the purpose of'. Both phrases, he said, referred to the dominant intention of the accused in doing the act complained of. The expression dominant intention is borrowed from cases which turned on the meaning of the words 'with a view of giving such creditor a preference over the other creditors' in s 48(1) of the Bankruptcy Act 1883. The law as to fraudulent preference in bankruptcy had been the subject of judicial consideration long before the passing of the Bankruptcy Act 1883 and, as appears from the speeches in Sharp v Jackson [1899] AC 419, the courts, including this House, were much influenced by the previous law as to fraudulent preference in the construction they gave to the section. For that reason, I do not regard these cases as a reliable guide to the construction of s 63(1) of the 1949 Act. To speak of a dominant intention suggests that a desire to achieve one particular purpose can alone be causative of human actions, whereas so many human actions are prompted by a desire to kill two birds with one stone. For my part, I prefer to omit the adjective 'dominant'. In my view, the offence under s 63(1) to (5) is committed by the accused if his desire to promote or procure the election of a candidate was one of the reasons which played a part in inducing him to incur the expense.

It was next argued for the respondents that the rule of construction in s 2(1)(b) of the Interpretation Act 1889 that 'words in the singular shall include the plural' has no application to the words 'a candidate' in the context of promoting or procuring his election since a contrary intention does appear from that context. When the 1949 Act was passed and at all times thereafter all parliamentary constituencies have been single member constituencies, though at the passing of the Act this was not the case with all local government elections, to which s 63 also applies. So the context required the plural in the case of local government elections. As respects parliamentary elections, while it is true to say that it is not possible to 'procure the election' in any constituency of 'candidates' in the plural, the subsection deals with promoting the election of a candidate as well as procuring his election, and it does so disjunctively. In my view, promoting as distinct from procuring the election of a candidate means improving his chances of being elected; and in a parliamentary constituency for which there are more than two candidates this can be accomplished for 'candidates' (in the plural) by persuading electors in the constituency not to vote for one of their rivals.

My Lords, where there are more than two candidates for a constituency, to persuade electors not to vote for one of those candidates in order to prevent his being elected must have the effect of improving the collective prospect of success of the other candidates though it may be uncertain which one of them will benefit most. So, in anyone sophisticated enough politically to want to intermeddle in a parliamentary election at all, an intention to prevent the election of one candidate will involve also an intention to improve the chances of success of the remaining candidate if there is only one, or of one or other of the remaining candidates if there are more than one, although the persons so intending may be indifferent which of them will be successful.

So I would answer the certified question: 'On a prosecution under s 63 of the Representation of the People Act 1949 it is not necessary to prove that the expense was incurred with the intention of promoting or procuring the election of one particular candidate, but is sufficient to establish an intention on the part of the person incurring the expense to prevent the election of a particular candidate or particular candidates.'

In the instant case it was found as a fact by the Bolton justices that the pamphlets were distributed by the respondent Duffield for the purpose of procuring or promoting the election of a candidate other than the National Front candidate even though those documents did not support a particular candidate. The respondents Luft and Atkinson did not go into the witness box to give direct evidence of their intentions but left these to be inferred from the prosecution's evidence as to what they had done. Although the stipendiary magistrate has not been so explicit as the justices, a similar finding of fact as to the intentions of Luft and Atkinson is in my view implicit in the way in which the case has been stated by him; and counsel for the respondents has not sought to distinguish their cases from that of Duffield.

For the reasons I have given, these findings as to the intentions of the respondents are sufficient in my opinion to support their convictions for offences under ss 63 and 95 of the 1949 Act. For the sake of completeness, however, it is necessary to deal briefly with an alternative contention for the respondents under s 63 that was raised for the first time in your Lordships' House and does not figure in the judgment of the Divisional Court.

This contention is that since the pamphlets do not positively recommend support for any of the candidates representing political parties other than the National Front, the only way in which they can be brought within the ambit of s 63 is as publications 'disparaging another candidate'. The argument proceeds that in the immediately preceding phrase, 'presenting to the electors the candidate or his views or the extent or nature of his backing', a distinction is drawn between the candidate on the one hand and his views or backing on the other; that a similar distinction was intended to be drawn when the word 'candidate' alone was used in reference to disparagement; and that criticism of the personal character or conduct of the candidate divorced from any criticism of the political views that he held was all that was covered by the paragraph. 'Disparaging' is not the antonym of 'presenting'. In my view it is to be understood in its ordinary and natural meaning. A person may be disparaged by attacks on the political views he holds as well as by attacks on his personal conduct. The pamphlets in the instant case are obvious specimens of disparagement.....