Campaigners are taking Boris Johnson’s government to court over its failure to investigate allegations of Russian interference in UK elections.
The High Court will on Tuesday hear an application for judicial review of Mr Johnson’s refusal to comply with the recommendations of parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, which last year warned that Moscow was targeting the UK with disinformation on social media and through other channels, in the hope of influencing votes from the 2016 EU referendum onwards.
The report, published in July 2020, said that protecting the UK’s democratic system “must be a ministerial priority”. But it found that London’s response to allegations of Russian interference stood in “stark contrast” to the Mueller Report inquiry in the US, which found evidence of “sweeping and systematic” attempts by Vladimir Putin’s regime to influence the 2016 presidential election.
The High Court will be told that no such investigation has been launched in the UK despite the ISC’s recommendation that “there must be an analogous assessment of Russian interference in the EU referendum”.
The case has been brought by campaign group All the Citizens alongside Labour MPs Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant, Green Caroline Lucas, the SNP’s Alyn Smith and peers Lord Strasburger and Baroness Wheatcroft.
It was initially rejected by a High Court judge on grounds that it was “non-justiciable” because it dealt with issues of the exercise of state sovereignty.
But the claimants hope to overturn the finding in a hearing before a different judge on Tuesday, allowing it to go forward to full judicial review.
Lawyer Tessa Gregory of Leigh Day told The Independent: “This isn’t politics by the back door. We are asking the court to ensure the government is upholding its duty under the Human Rights Act to protect our democratic system and ensure free and fair elections.
“The government has a legal duty to ensure the protection of our electoral system and the only way it can do that is if it investigates credible allegations of interference. In this case we have highly credible allegations of interference.”
The landmark case – funded by around £40,000 in donations from the public – is the first time that sitting MPs and Lords have taken legal action on grounds of national security, and comes after the government blocked the publication of the ISC’s Russia Report for nine months.
The MPs said they were determined to take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if they are denied judicial review by UK courts.