A High Court hearing into the rights of up to 2 million Britons in Europe to vote in the EU referendum will take place on Wednesday 20th April 2016.
Two judges at the High Court in London will hear arguments against legislation that excludes British people living in the European Union, but outside the UK for more than 15 years, from voting in June.
The ‘rolled up’ judicial review hearing will begin on Wednesday with a possibility of it extending into Monday 25th April if a second day is required to hear arguments.
Leigh Day, the lawyers for the claimants, requested an urgent hearing at which both the permission to apply for a judicial review can be held, and if successful and permission is granted, a substantive hearing will follow immediately after.
Attending the hearing will be Jacquelyn MacLennan, one of the claimants, as well as Charlotte Oliver, an English lawyer based in Rome who runs her own practice in the Italian Capital and supports the legal action being taken. Mr Shindler will not be attending the hearing.
Lawyer for the claimants, Leigh Day, have expressed the wish for fast track legislation to be put through Parliament so that the referendum should not be delayed.
Leigh Day is acting on behalf of 94-year-old Harry Shindler, a Second World War veteran who lives in Italy, and lawyer and Belgian resident Jacquelyn MacLennan. Both claim that under the EU Referendum Act 2015 they are being unlawfully denied the right to vote on the UK’s continued membership of the EU.
Despite the Conservative 2015 manifesto including the pledge to introduce votes for life, scrapping the rule that bars British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting, the UK government have not proposed any legislation to reverse this ‘undemocratic’ rule ahead of this Summer’s crucial vote on whether the United Kingdom remains in the EU.
At the hearing lawyers for the claimants will argue that excluding British citizens who have lived elsewhere in the EU for more than 15 years acts as a disincentive from, and a penalty for, their exercising their free movement rights. It also prevents them from participating in a democratic process, the result of which might bring to an end the very EU law rights on which they rely and base their working lives.
According to lawyers for the claimants, the judicial review of the legislation, if successful, should require the Government to rush through amending legislation to change the franchise for the forthcoming referendum in June 2016.
According to lawyers there is precedent for such fast track legislation going through Parliament in a matter of days, they point to the the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 which received Royal Assent on 17 July 2014 after being introduced before Parliament just three days before, on 14 July 2014, in response to a European Court decision that declared the Data Retention Directive to be invalid.
Richard Stein, the lawyer from Leigh Day representing the claimants, said: “We believe that the Government has the time now to amend the franchise and empower the many British people who have lived outside the UK for over 15 years who want to vote on decisions which will have a very real impact on their lives.
“This legal action should not delay the referendum, the Government should instead stand by its promises and give a ‘vote for life’ to British citizens.”