Political party loses challenge over 'offensive' slogan ban after Jo Cox murder

Updated: 

A political party has lost a High Court challenge against the removal of an "offensive" slogan from ballot papers in the wake of Jo Cox's murder.

Robin Tilbrook, leader and founder of the English Democrats, said the Electoral Commission was wrong to object to the party's use of the word "fighting" in the aftermath of the Batley and Spen MP's death.

But, in a ruling on Wednesday, Mr Justice Supperstone said the commission was "entitled" to reach its decision.

Robin Tilbrook, leader and founder of the English Democrats (PA)
Robin Tilbrook, leader and founder of the English Democrats (PA)

Ms Cox was stabbed and shot in her constituency by Thomas Mair in June 2016, during the final week of the EU referendum campaign.

Following a review, the Electoral Commission removed the phrase "English Democrats - England worth fighting for!" from ballot papers during the by-election for her former seat in October of that year.

The commission concluded the word "fighting" would be associated with its "violent, primary, literal meaning" by a significant number of voters in the polling booth.

Mr Tilbrook argued the commission was "biased", had reached an irrational decision and said his party should have been consulted.

Thomas Mair, who was jailed for life for the murder of MP Jo Cox (West Yorkshire Police/PA)
Thomas Mair, who was jailed for life for the murder of MP Jo Cox (West Yorkshire Police/PA)

During a hearing last month the solicitor told the High Court: "We didn't think it was offensive.

"We are a small party with very little money and we rely on being visible on the ballot paper to get our message out.

"To lose something like that with no power to resist and no opportunity to be consulted in advance is just potentially devastating."

Lawyers for the commission said Mrs Cox's "politically motivated murder" by Mair, who shouted "Britain First" as he killed her, created "electorally extreme" circumstances for the by-election.

They said her murder was an act that "struck hard at the core of the democratic electoral process" and, in that context, it would have been "inappropriate and ill-judged" to allow words associated with violence on the ballot papers.

Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen, who was murdered in 2016 during the last week of the EU Referendum (Jo Cox Foundation/PA)
Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen, who was murdered in 2016 during the last week of the EU referendum (Jo Cox Foundation/PA)

Dismissing the English Democrats' case, Mr Justice Supperstone said: "I do not accept that the decision was one the commission could not reasonably have reached.

"It is clear the commission undertook a careful review.

"It concluded that the murder of Ms Cox in her constituency under the banner of putting 'Britain first' meant that the use of the word 'fighting' in the description would, for a sufficiently large number of voters reading the ballot paper, more likely be associated with its primary meaning than its secondary meaning, rendering the description offensive.

"This, in my judgment, was a conclusion that the commission was entitled to reach on the evidence."