Blind woman brings legal action against government for human rights breach
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A Norfolk woman who won a High Court case last year challenging the provision for blind voters is taking further legal action after accusing the government of failing to take action.
Rachael Andrews, who is from Norwich and registered blind, won a case in May 2019 which saw the current provisions ruled unlawful as they don’t allow people with visual impairments to vote secretly and independently. The judge in the case described the existing arrangements as “a parody of the electoral process”.
The historic judgement saw Mrs Andrews, 47, named Campaigner of the Year at the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s See Differently awards in London in November, and should have seen new provisions come into force to allow blind and partially-sighted people to vote independently in the December general election.
However, she has instructed law firm Leigh Day to launch further legal action against the Cabinet Office, claiming that the government has failed to make alternative voting arrangements in line with the High Court’s ruling.
Mrs Andrews is now seeking a declaration from the court that the arrangements for blind and partially-sighted voters at the December election breached her right to a secret ballot without discrimination.
She is seeking damages and a declaration that her human rights were breached, along with those of other blind and partially-sighted voters.
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They are currently expected to vote using a Tactile Voting Device (TVD), a sheet of transparent plastic which fits on top of the ballot paper and has a number of flaps that correspond to the various places on the ballot paper where voters are able to mark an ‘X’ next to candidates’ names – but TVDs still require someone else to read the names aloud.
After voting in December, Mrs Andrews said: “There was nothing independent or secret about my experience – the bottom line was that I still could not vote without assistance. I just want to vote in the same way as everyone else without sticking out or feeling like a nuisance.”
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The Cabinet Office said the High Court’s ruling last May allowed for the TVD to remain in use at elections until another option was identified and written into electoral law, and said they were “conscious that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this matter”.
A spokesperson said: “Ahead of the general election we worked closely with specialists and election officials to identify different tools to assist people with sight loss to cast their vote, such as mobile phone apps and video magnifiers.
“We received a positive response from voters and since then have continued working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, to test new solutions and improve the voting experience going forward.”