July 19, 2019
Brexit activist Darren Grimes has won an appeal against a £20,000 fine imposed by the Electoral Commission for his activity during the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Brexit activist Darren Grimes wins appeal against £20,000 Electoral Commission fine
Mr Grimes, who was 22 years old at the time of the referendum, was fined by the Commission in connection with his student Brexit group BeLeave.
The Electoral Commission - which regulates political parties, members and campaigners - fined Mr Grimes last year after concluding that he had wrongly reported almost £700,000 of spending.
The watchdog found that BeLeave "spent more than £675,000 with (Canadian data firm) Aggregate IQ under a common plan with Vote Leave", which should have been declared by the latter but was not.
This spending took Vote Leave over its £7 million legal spending limit by almost £500,000.
But Mr Grimes' lawyers argued that the commission had misinterpreted the law and set a key legal test "too high" on whether BeLeave had been correctly registered on official forms, the court heard.
Mr Grimes said that he had intended to register the organisation BeLeave and not himself as an individual on the forms.
Brexit activist Darren Grimes wins appeal against £20,000 Electoral Commission fine
His lawyers said he had filled out the complex and difficult-to-understand forms to the best of his ability.
Mr Grimes, a former fashion student originally from County Durham, raised £93,956 via an online crowdfunding campaign to appeal against the verdict of the commission at the Mayor's and City of London Court in Central London.
Today a judge ruled in favour of Mr Grimes' appeal, which cost the Electoral Commission an estimated £436,000 to fight.
The effect of Judge Marc Dight's ruling is that the order against Mr Grimes is quashed and the commission will have to pay his costs, according to Mr Grimes's lawyer, Timothy Straker QC.
The amount of the costs still has to be assessed.
Mr Grimes told The Telegraph: "I feel completely elated, and I just feel a deep sense of gratitude to everyone who allowed me to get this far.
"The judge acknowledged himself that I’m on a very limited financial means, which I think translates in legal speak as having nothing at all. I couldn’t have done this without the donations of about 3,000 people.
"My mother started to cry because she was talking about having to sell the house to pay for my legal costs, so that’s a massive weight off of both of our shoulders.
"I think on a deeper level, this goes to the heart of the fact that we have a quango that is judge, jury and executioner, with very little oversight on the decisions that it makes.
"You’ve got to look into this and think, is the Electoral Commission fit for purpose? And my conclusion is, it absolutely isn’t."
The Electoral Commission said it was "disappointed" with the result.
“We are disappointed that the Court has upheld Mr Grimes’ appeal," a spokeswoman said.
"We will now review the full detail of the judgement before deciding on next steps, including any appeal."
Brexit-supporting Labour MP Kate Hoey tweeted: "What a wonderful result. So pleased for @darrengrimes- You have been so resolute in the face of horrible prejudice. Just delighted for you."
Matthew Elliott, who was Vote Leave's chief executive, said a movie should be made about Mr Grimes' battle with the Electoral Commission.
"He has shown amazing courage and fortitude over the past three years and is truly a hero of the Brexit cause," Mr Elliott said.
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