Treating (law)

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An example of treating shown in William Hogarth's Canvassing for Votes (1755) (see Humours of an Election)

Treating is an electoral fraud criminal offence in the United Kingdom. Treating occurs when an election candidate or their agents offer material incentives for people to vote for them or to abstain from voting. It is a triable either way offence with the sentence being up to either an unlimited fine, one year imprisonment or both.[1]


Historically, the issue of treating at elections was dealt with under common law.[1] In 1840, the House of Lords debated putting treating on a statutory footing similar to bribery, but argued that poor electors should be entitled to receive refreshments from candidates if they took a day off work to vote.[2] An early example of treating which led to an election petition to the Election court which nullified an election result was in 1868 in Youghal where the winner Christopher Weguelin was found guilty of treating for buying food and drink for voters in exchange for their vote.[3]

Current offence[edit]

The current offence of treating was created under section 114 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.[4] It stated if election candidates or their agents offered any food, drink, entertainment or any payment in order to make any attempt to prevent voting or to sway voters to vote for them, then they have committed the offence of treating. The recipient is also guilty of the offence if they accept it.[4] The Crown Prosecution Service stated they would only prosecute treating if it was in the public interest and would not prosecute in situations such as if it could not have affected the election process, if it was a genuine mistake or did not go against the spirit of the Representation of the People Act.[5]

In 1911, Seymour King, an MP with 25 years' service, lost his seat after he was discovered to have given coal to the poor and sweets to children to commemorate his length of service, which counted as treating.[6] In 2014, the police received four reports of the alleged offence.[6] In the 2010s, there have been some modern examples of the offence. In April 2015, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman (Tower Hamlets First) was found guilty of a number of electoral fraud offences, including treating, during the 2014 Tower Hamlets mayoral election which resulted in the Electoral Commission declaring the result of the election null and void leading to Rahman being removed from office.[7] An accusation of treating was seen in the 2015 United Kingdom general election where the UK Independence Party candidate for Southampton Itchen was accused of treating for giving out sausage rolls at a community event;[8] however, Hampshire Constabulary said they would take no action over the allegation.[9] The UKIP leader Nigel Farage criticised the allegation of treating.[10]


  1. ^ a b "Electoral Law Regulation" (PDF). Law Commission. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  2. ^ "Bribery and Treating. (Hansard, 28 May 1840)". Hansard. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  3. ^ "The Youghal Election Petition". Bury and Norwich Post. 20 April 1869. p. 3. Retrieved 18 April 2019 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  4. ^ a b "Representation of the People Act 1983". Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  5. ^ "Election Offences". Crown Prosecution Service. 11 September 2006. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Reality Check: Is giving voters sausage rolls illegal?". BBC News. 10 April 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  7. ^ "Tower Hamlets election fraud mayor Lutfur Rahman removed from office". BBC News. 23 April 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  8. ^ "Election 2015: UKIP candidate 'to be questioned' over sausage rolls". BBC News. 10 April 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  9. ^ Press Association. "Ukip candidate in clear over alleged voter wooing with sausage rolls". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  10. ^ Mason, Rowena. "Nigel Farage backs Ukip candidate in sausage roll bribery row". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 April 2019.