There is the letter of the law, and there is the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law describes the intention of the law, its objective. The letter of the law refers to the actual wording of the law and defines what actions constitute an illegal act.
Many lawyers make their living by finding ways for clients to circumvent the spirit of a law without breaking the letter of the law and committing an illegal act.
On 12 December 2019, the States debated what expenditure limits should be imposed on candidates and parties contesting the 2020 island-wide election.
During the debate, members of the GUERNSEY PARTNERSHIP OF INDEPENDENTS PARTY laid amendments to reduce the expenditure
limits and made passionate speeches describing how less wealthy candidates could not afford the cost of competing. The final expenditure limits agreed were £6,000 per person and £9,000 for a party which then got written into law as part of The Electoral Expenditure Ordinance, 2020.
However, there are often ways of deliberately breaking the spirit of a law without breaking the letter of the law and committing a criminal offence. The loophole in this law is that the expenditure limits target the specific election period (the Regulated Period), from 1 September to 7 October 2020 and there are ways to avoid including money spent before then.
Consequently, crafty individual candidates or parties could spend vast amounts of money preparing for the election without breaking the law.
As long as their declared expenditure from 1 September to 7 October does not exceed the £6,000 or £9,000 limits.
This would blatantly break the spirit of the law, enabling richer individuals or parties to gain a significant advantage over candidates honouring the spirit of the law by keeping their expenditure within the limits of £6,000 or £9,000.
This would bring into question the morals and ethics of any individual or group who would do this. Still, it would not break the letter of the law and be a criminal act.
The sudden changes made to the official Information for Prospective Candidates booklet highlighted the significant differences between the spirit and the letter of the law. The version issued in July 2020 described the spirit of the law. The revised version published on 26 August 2020, just three working days before the start of the elections’ Restricted Period, describing the letter of the law, significantly changing the advice regarding expenditure restrictions with serious implications.
Having watched the GUERNSEY PARTNERSHIP OF INDEPENDENTS PARTY launch and their slick marketing campaign, I believe that this party spent tens of thousands of pounds before the election. Amounts which far exceed the expenditure limits and clearly breaking the spirit of the law.
The question people will have to ask themselves is; do they want to elect a group of people who exploited loopholes in a law they created for their advantage. And, by electing them, empower them to continue creating laws the spirit of which they evidently do not respect.
I anticipate most other candidates will respect both the letter and spirit of the law and will restrict their expenditure to the limits stipulated.
I will be limiting my expenditure to less than £6,000, and I will include in my expenditure returns precisely what I spend before the Regulated Period as well as during it.
I invite other candidates to do the same in the interests of transparency.