More details have come of how Welsh Assembly (Possibly) Members John Dixon and Aled Roberts have ended up in the predicament of having their election questioned, But the eventual outcome is still unclear.
Aled Robert’s stood for election despite holding a disqualifying post – with the Valuation Tribunal for Wales. He has since resigned from that position, but the reason he was not aware that it was a disqualifying post is that it was missing from much of the legal guidance available to election candidates and their agents. For example, the Electoral Commission’s official guidance made reference to the wrong (older) list of disqualifying posts, which excludes the Valuation Tribunal. Similarly, the National Assembly of Wales’s website and the training materials used by the Electoral Commission at a Welsh Liberal Democrats even earlier in the year both made the same mistake.
So he seems to have a very good case for saying that he was telling the truth when he signed his consent to nomination paper stating that “to the best of my knowledge and belief I am not disqualified”. That should provide an extremely strong defence in response to the police inquiry demanded by UKIP. Less clear is whether or not the Welsh Assembly can vote to let him take his seat anyway. The short version of it is that there are conflicting distinguished legal opinions on that matter.
John Dixon’s case is a little more complicated. He also had a post with the Care Council for Wales that was also on the disqualified list and, unlike in Aled Roberts’s case, there was no misinformation over it. However, he has an email from the Care Council for Wales saying that his membership of the body had been terminated. The email is vulnerable on two fronts – whether that was sufficient to legally end his membership of the body and, even if so, whether that happened soon enough. Again, there are conflicting legal opinions on whether or not the Welsh Assembly can vote to regulate matters in his case using its powers under section 17(3) of the Government of Wales Act 2006.
There are some parallels with the case of Conservative MP Bob Neill, who was elected in the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election despite holding a disqualifying post until the day after the election. In that case, the Liberal Democrats argued he was disqualified. But mindful of the outcome of the Winchester by-election, did not pursue an election petition after he was declared elected. That case, therefore, does not provide legal guidance for the Welsh case, especially as the legal details around disqualification are different between the Westminster Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
If one or both are unable to take up their seats, they would be replaced by the next Liberal Democrat candidate on the party’s lists as both were elected via the regional list part of the Welsh Assembly.