Challenges to 2017 RCVS Council election dismissed
7 February 2018
A Challenge Committee set up by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has dismissed two separate challenges to the results of the 2017 RCVS Council election.
The challenges were lodged prior to the College’s annual general meeting last July by Mr Tom Lonsdale and Mr John Davies, who both stood for election in 2017 and who came 15th and 16th respectively out of 16 candidates.
The Challenge Committee was set up in accordance with the election challenge procedure in the RCVS Council Election Scheme, which itself is approved by the Privy Council, ie it comprised three appointed, rather than elected, members of Council, who were nominated by RCVS President Stephen May.
Sitting with one of the RCVS Legal Assessors – Mr Richard Price OBE QC – the Challenge Committee was required to decide whether to declare the election void, based on whether the alleged irregularity in question rendered the election substantially not in accordance with the RCVS Council Election Scheme, or that the irregularity concerned significantly affected the result of the election.
Challenge 1 – Mr John Davies
Mr Davies challenged the election results on both of the above grounds. His challenge focused on edits to the content of his candidate biography and candidate statement made by the RCVS Returning Officer prior to circulation to the electorate, on the grounds that they were considered to be defamatory and/or factually misleading.
These edits had been made following a period of time when attempts to agree an amended form of words with Mr Davies had failed.
Under the RCVS Council Election Scheme, the Returning Officer is not required to accept a statement which she reasonably considers to be defamatory or otherwise unlawful or factually misleading and may in the absence of agreement edit the statement.
Following written submissions from both the RCVS and Mr Davies, the Challenge Committee dismissed Mr Davies’s challenge, stating that there was no irregularity in the conduct of the election on the part of the Returning Officer, and that there was no valid basis for challenging the validity of the election.
Challenge 2 – Mr Tom Lonsdale
The main ground of Mr Lonsdale’s challenge was that the election had been furthered by corrupt practices, namely undue influence (all in terms of the Misrepresentation of the People Act 1983).
It was also concerned with the decisions of the Returning Officer to edit Mr Lonsdale’s candidate statement before circulation to the electorate in refusing to include hypertext links and in removing references that the Returning Officer reasonably believed to be defamatory; and, not to publish his ‘Quiz the candidates’ video on the RCVS website and/or YouTube channel when requests to make minor amendments considered defamatory were refused.
The Challenge Panel (comprising the same members as for Mr Davies’s challenge) dismissed Mr Lonsdale’s challenge, stating that it considered it to be ‘totally devoid of merit’.
Prior to reaching this decisions, however, two preliminary challenges made by Mr Lonsdale were considered and dismissed.
The first related to the members of the Challenge Committee, whom Mr Lonsdale argued should stand down on the basis of actual or apparent bias based on his allegations of connections with the pet food industry.
The Committee considered that a fair-minded and informed observer, having understood the facts, would conclude that the connection of committee members to the pet food industry were ‘….remote, indirect and, in the case of one panel member, virtually non-existent’.
Each committee member was satisfied that there was ‘…no real possibility of their judgement being distorted or influenced by any interest in, or links with, the pet food industry.’
The second challenge was to The Legal Assessor, who had been appointed to advise the Committee. Mr Lonsdale had alleged that Mr Price had displayed bias in the way that he had given advice to the Committee in relation to the challenge to the Committee membership. This was also dismissed.