As to the first proposition, ignorance of the law is no defence to a criminal charge, though it may in some circumstances afford some mitigation (the more obscure the law, the better that mitigation may be), though in the circumstances of funding political parties one doubts that many Judges would be inclined to believe that someone did not know the law. Indeed, they would expect any donor of substantial sums such as these to ensure that the law had been properly observed, so this plea is of little material value to him.
As to the second proposition, he is, on the admitted facts, prima facie guilty of an offence under section 54 (7) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000:
(7) A person commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, he fails to comply with subsection (5) or (6)
The relevant subsection here is subsection (6) which states:
(a) any person (“the agent”) causes an amount to be received by a registered party by way of a donation on behalf of another person (“the donor”), and
(b) the amount of that donation is more than £200,
the agent must ensure that, at the time when the donation is received by the party, the party is given all such details in respect of the donor as are required by virtue of paragraph 2 of Schedule 6 to be given in respect of the donor of a recordable donation.
On the admitted facts Mr. Abrahams gave the money to a Mr. Ruddick and a Mrs. Kidd for onward transmission to the Labour Party. Ruddick and Kidd are, therefore, within the meaning of Subsection (6) “agents” for Mr. Abrahams who is thus a “donor”.
Again the facts disclose that the elements of subsection 6(a) are made out: the agents Ruddick and Kidd caused the Labour Party to receive donations on behalf of a donor, Mr. Abrahams. Those donations were more than £200.
When the donations were received by Labour no indication whatsoever of Mr. Abrahams being “the donor” was given to it of the matters required under paragraph 2 of Schedule 6 of the Act, to wit:
paragraph 2 of Schedule 6
(2) In the case of an individual the report must give his full name and—
(a) if his address is, at the date of receipt of the donation, shown in an electoral register (within the meaning of section 54), that address; and
(b) otherwise, his home address (whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere).
On the admitted facts, therefore, Mr. Ruddick and Mrs. Kidd are prima facie guilty of an offence under Section 54 (7) of the Act as Principals.
As to Mr. Abrahams he is also prima facie guilty of offences in that he aided, abetted, counseled or procured Mr. Ruddick and Mrs. Kidd to make the donations on his behalf in breach of Section 54(6) and may therefore be indicted as a principal along with the two agents. The penalties for these offences are:
Section 54(7) (failure to provide information about donors)
On summary conviction: statutory maximum or 6 months
On indictment : fine or 1 year.
Given the amounts involved it is highly likely that these matters would end up in the Crown Court.
It is to be hoped that these individuals and the Labour Party will now be investigated with the same thoroughness as was applied to UKIP over donations to it by someone who inadvertently got left off an electoral register.
This extraordinary incident raises, however, some serious questions, yet again, about Labour’s behaviour in fund raising. After all here were huge sums of money, which ostensibly made Mr. Ruddick one of Labour’s biggest donors and yet, on their account, they made no enquiry whatsoever as to who this man was and why he was giving such large sums.
How very peculiar! If I was a political party officer responsible for this sort of money coming in, I should be very keen to know more about such a donor, if only to see whether he might be persuaded to take a more active part in the party’s affairs. Yet, according to Labour, no such enquiries seem to have been made.
The question is: why did they not give in to that natural curiosity? Labour must give a proper explanation of such an odd state of affairs. So far their explanations have been laughable.