Two candidates for the 2017 RCVS Council elections have had their challenge of the results dismissed by a committee tasked with assessing their claims.
John Davies and Tom Lonsdale MsRCVS both objected to edits made by the College to their candidate statements.
Mr Davies explained in his statement how he'd been subject to "bewildering, unfounded and damaging allegations" from two veterinary nurses, one of which he says resulted in his dismissal from a practice at which he was a partner. He went on to explain how, in addition to taking the dismissal case to an employment tribunal and winning, he had also raised concerns with the College about the nurses who'd made the allegations against him. Mr Davies outlined the way he felt that the RCVS mismanaged his case and how that had driven him to stand for Council to try and address the grave concerns he now had about the governance of the profession. However, the Returning Officer redacted the details on the grounds that they were considered to be defamatory and/or factually misleading.
The main grounds for 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). In addition, the Returning Officer edited Mr Lonsdale’s candidate statement before circulation to the electorate, refusing to include hypertext links and removing references that the Returning Officer believed to be defamatory. The Returning Officer also declined 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.
Both challenges were lodged with the RCVS last July, after which the College set up a Challenge Committee in accordance with the election challenge procedure, approved by Privy Council. It comprised three members of Council 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 (in which Mr Lonsdale and Mr Davies came 15th and 16th respectively out of 16 candidates).
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.
The Challenge Committee (comprising the same members as for Mr Davies’s challenge) also 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 also 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.