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The right to free elections

The right to free elections is protected by Article 3, Protocol 1 of the Human Rights Act.

Key information

Last updated: 09th November 2022


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Non-absolute right

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How might this right be relevant to my life?

The Human Rights Act protects our right to free elections. These elections must be held regularly, and you have to be able to vote in secret. Under our human rights law in the UK, voting is a right, not a privilege.

This right is very important as free elections are central to working democracies. Voting rights are also important to other human rights protected by the Human Rights Act including freedom of expression (Article 10) and freedom of assembly (Article 11).

The right to free elections includes:

  1. The right to vote. Voting allows you to have a say on which person or party wins an election. Voting is one of the most common ways for people to have their voice heard by people in power.

  2. The right to stand in elections to become a Member of Parliament or local government.

Can my right to freedom of expression be restricted by a public official?

Yes. This is a non-absolute right which means it can be limited or restricted in certain circumstances. For example, the government can decide what sort of system for elections we have and at what age we are able to vote or stand as a candidate in an election.

If a public official is deciding to restrict your right to free elections, they must go through a test. They must be able to show that their decision is:


There is a law which allows public officials to take that action or decision.


There is a good reason (for example public safety or protecting the rights of other people, including your family members or staff).


They have thought about other things they could do, but there is no other way to protect you or other people. It is the least restrictive option. This means that blanket, automatic restrictions that apply regardless of individual circumstances will be in breach of the right to vote.


You can ask the public official about their decision or action and ask them to tell you how it was lawful, legitimate and proportionate.

If you can think of a way to deal with this situation or decision that is less restrictive to you then you can raise it with the public official as the decision may not be proportionate.

What duties do public officials have?

To respect your right:

This means public officials (including the government) should not interfere with the right to free elections, unless it is necessary, and they can show that this is the case.

To protect your right:

This means that the government and people working in public bodies should take ‘reasonable and appropriate’ measures to promote our right to free elections.

They must make sure that systems are in place so that free elections can take place at reasonable intervals by secret ballot. These must be under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature (i.e. the House of Commons, the Holyrood Parliament in Scotland, the Senedd in Wales, the Northern Irish Assembly and local government throughout the UK).

To fulfil your right:

When things go wrong, regarding the right to free elections, there should be an investigation and steps should be taken to try and stop the same thing happening again.