Attempting to Pervert the
Course of Democracy

Background:

Lying in a Court of Law, or Attempting to Pervert the Course of Justice, have rightly been considered to be very serious crimes. In these cases often there is a particular victim, but the impact of the offence is the damage done to the whole structure of the legal system.

Likewise officials who deliberately lie or misbehave are guilty of Misconduct in Public Office, and there are also strict rules for candidates and their officials in elections.

However it would seem that it is acceptable for politicians and the media to present any lies and misinformation that they want in order to sway public opinion, influence elections and the future of the United Kingdom.

In my opinion the most telling remark was during the Ascot Branch Labour Party meeting after the Brexit referendum:

“Of course politicians lie — you just have to accept it”.

It would seem that although it is an offence for a person to bend the truth to affect Justice in the Courts, it is acceptable for politicians and the media to lie, bend the truth, or misuse statistics, to affect the direction and lives of the entire British population.

Proposal:
The United Kingdom should introduce a criminal offence defined as:

“Attempting to Pervert the Course of Democracy”

Summary:
Politicians, Political Parties, Candidates, or Main Stream Media, deliberately lying or misleading for political gain are guilty of the offence of “Attempting to Pervert the Course of Democracy”.

Definitions:

Politicians are defined as elected MPs, MSPs, AMs, MLSs, MEPs, Members of the House of Lords, & Local Councillors, and include anyone representing them (e.g. spokespersons, agents, office staff, etc.).

Local councillors include all district, borough, or city councillors, unitary authority councillors in shire areas, London borough councillors, Metropolitan borough councillors, and Parish, community and town councillors.

For the purposes of the offence Politician also includes anyone standing for public office, such as Police and Crime Commissioners.

Political Parties are defined as organised groups of people with at least roughly similar political aims and opinions, that seek to influence public policy by getting their candidates elected to public office, or by influencing public voting in events such as referendums. It also includes anyone representing them (e.g. spokespersons, agents, office staff, etc.).

For the purposes of the offence Political Parties also include Campaigning Groups that seeks to influence public policy by influencing those elected to public office, or by influencing public voting in events such as referenda. It also includes organisations (often described as ‘Think Tanks’) whose purpose is to influence public opinion by presenting themselves as experts through the media or other means.

Candidates are defined as anyone standing for election to any of the roles defined for Politicians (including those standing for Public Office), and also includes anyone representing them (e.g. spokespersons, agents, office staff, etc.).

Main Stream Media is defined as media sources that influence, or intend to influence, a large number of people, and intend to reflect and shape prevailing public opinion.

In terms of readership/ circulation/social media:

Broadcast media (radio or TV) > 10,000 listeners/viewers
Print media > 5,000 impressions per issue
Electronic publication/blog > 10,000 followers or recipients
Individuals (and any other source not included above) — via any mechanism > 10,000 followers or recipients

Lying is defined as making a statement, or an inference, that is not true. This may include (but is not limited to) making statements of fact that are incorrect, using data that is incorrect or not applicable/appropriate, making inferences that are drawn from such information that is incorrect, or repeating such information originating from another source as fact.

Misleading is defined as using data, information, or facts, in a way that is intended to cause the recipient to make conclusions that would not otherwise be appropriate from the source information.

Arbiters:
The following bodies are respected and defined as being suitable independent arbiters in defining accuracy and truth in respect of the offence of “Attempting to Pervert the Course of Democracy”.

In terms of precedence the arbiters are:

  1. Office for National Statistics
  2. Office for Budget Responsibility
  3. The House of Commons Library
  4. A regulatory body for Main Stream Media (MSM) where at least 67% of regulatory members are sourced from outside the MSN.

Penalty:
The degree of the penalty should be determined by:

1. The determination to deceive the electorate
2. The degree by which available information is misused
3. The potential impact on the nation

The maximum penalty shall be Life Imprisonment and/or unlimited fines. Other penalties shall include limited fines, shorter terms of imprisonment, and suspension/disqualification from office.
Penalties for media outlets shall include fines equivalent to total revenue for the number of days equivalent to the prison sentence that would be imposed for an individual, and requirement to print corrections with the same coverage, prominence, and position as the original articles.

Corrections and Exemptions:
Corrections:
It is recognised that those identified above may make genuine mistakes that could deceive the electorate. In the event that a mistake is identified the perpetrator should take immediate action to correct the mistake. The retraction/correction should take the same prominence as the original publication. In the event that that the original statement has been repeated by Media (or other publication) then the correction/retraction should be published in the same (or more prominent) position as the original claim, headlined with the same degree as the original. Failure to publish the correction by Media will render the Media, but not the originator, liable to the full penalties that the Media would have suffered has the originator not corrected the mistake.

Where a correction can be shown to have been made such that it has not affected the result of related democratic elections there shall be no related offence or penalty.

Where a correction cannot be shown to have been made such that it has not affected the result of related democratic elections, but has been made with full exposure as identified above at least 2 weeks before any related election, any penalty shall be reduced by 50%.

Exemptions:
The legislation should refer to maters presented as fact. Those covered by the legislation are quite at liberty to express opinions, provided that the matters presented are clearly indicated as such.
In the case of speeches matters presented should be preceded by clear wording such as “In my opinion”. Reporting of such speeches must also make it clear that the matters presented are the opinion of the speaker.

In printed (or online material) including pieces by any of those covered by the legislation, matters presented as opinion must also be clearly indicated as such, along with the individual whose opinion it is. This should either be in a heading (e.g. Editor’s Opinion) in which case the font should be equal to the title of the piece, or at the beginning of each comment where these are inserted into a document. Reproductions of such material should also make clear that these are opinions. And whose opinions they are.

Where opinions are being expressed in private correspondence they do not need to be identified as such, but if such correspondence is reproduced in another form then, unless the originator wishes it to be taken as fact, it must be labelled as being the originator’s opinion.

Failure to indicate material as opinion, either by the originator or by anyone reproducing it, will render it liable to the tests for lying or being misleading, and the equivalent penalties applied.

Aiding and Abetting:
Anyone deliberately repeating, or commissioning to be repeated, claims made by an individual identified above shall be equally guilty of the original offence, and shall be subject to the same penalties as the original perpetrator. Reductions for corrections will be equally applied.

Possible related offences:

Misconduct in Public Office
Maximum Penalty: Life Imprisonment

Representation of the People Act
Maximum Penalty: Imprisonment up to 2 years, and/or fines

Perjury Act 1911
Maximum Penalty: Imprisonment up to 7 years, and/or fines

Perverting the Course of Justice
Maximum Penalty: Life Imprisonment

Anyone deliberately repeating, or commissioning to be repeated, claims made by an individual identified above shall be equally guilty of the original offence, and shall be subject to the same penalties as the original perpetrator. Reductions for corrections will be equally applied.

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hctbn

Ageing lefty, Electronic CEng, with a missus & 2 kids. I like steak (blue), music, BBC R4 extra, F1, and driving my Land Rover (so global warming is my fault!)