Local news for Wapping E1W and Tower Hamlets

“Corruption … is at the heart of Mr Rahman’s administration.”

Ooh! That headline’s a bit harsh isn’t it?

Francis Hoar (Photo ©  Field Court Chambers)

Francis Hoar (Photo © Field Court Chambers)

Not the word’s of our High Court correspondent but of Francis Hoar (right), counsel for the four Tower Hamlets residents who have brought a legal challenge of the result of the 2014 Mayoral election to the High Court (Erlam and Others v Rahman and Another).

The case is the longest election petition of the 20th or 21st centuries and probably in English law, and the first to attempt to unseat a directly elected executive leader.

Closing submissions have been made by Mr Hoar for the Petitioners and Duncan Penny QC for the respondents.

Here are a few edited highlights from the submission by Mr Hoar that summarises the case.

(‘Treating’ as mentioned below is “is the act of serving food, drink, and other refreshments to influence people for political gain”.)

Allegations made by the Petitioners include:

  • Lutfur Rahman and his Tower Hamlets First (THF) team organised two events – in December 2013 and January 2014, at which voters were treated corruptly with dinner while his political programme and campaign were promoted.
  • During the campaign,Lutfur Rahman’s election agent Alibor Choudhury organised the payment of canvassers. The Petitioners’ suggest that he was able to do this easily through having deliberately decided not to set up a bank account for THF.
  • A substantial body of evidence has been presented which, cumulatively, proves that a large number of postal votes were intercepted and completed by others in LR’s interest and then counted.
  • The Petitioners submit that the [THF] electoral expenses include so many examples of illegal payments and corruption that they should fall to be considered under the prohibition against general corruption.
  • The [THF] Party had no bank account and an arcane (and illegal, as payments for expenses were not handled by the election agent directly) system by which donors – supposedly – could pay for expenses directly (one impossible to scrutinise as there has never been any disclosure as to who paid what)
  • That while THF does appear to have a constitution, Lutfur Rahman could not remember whether or not it did when giving evidence:

MR. HOAR. “So, there is a constitution?”

LUTFUR RAHMAN: “I do not believe there is a constitution, so I do not know how they got over that.” (Laughter)

MR. HOAR: “There is no constitution?”

LUTFUR RAHMAN: “There may be aims and objectives set out, I do not believe there is a constitution.”

The trial had been told that Tower Hamlets First (THF) had no bank account.

Mr Hoar said the approach of Mr Choudhury – THF’s treasurer and cabinet member for resources – to election expenses was “frankly diabolical”.

Three reasons for not having a bank account

“There is no logical explanation for an organisation of that size having no bank account,” said Mr Hoar.

“The only reason, we submit, why you would have no bank account is so that you can engage in fraud.”

“The only reason why you would have no bank account is so that you can engage in money laundering.”

“The only reason why you would have no bank account is so that you can engage in election expenses offences.”

He added: “Mr Rahman and Mr Choudhury have wholly failed to provide an explanation.”

  • “The process by which [council] officers’ decisions were overturned was arbitrary and at the sole discretion of the Mayor and no more than three of his close aides. Not only did Members not follow the process adopted by officers by, for example, asking that the organisations’ applications be re-scored, they and Lutfur Rahman were able to furnish the Court with no documentary evidence whatsoever as to how, when and why officers’ decisions were overturned. The documentary evidence demonstrates that, on many occasions, Members were warned that the decisions being made by the Mayor and his aides were not merely likely to be subjected to call in (by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (‘O&S’)) but were likely to be subject to challenge as to their lawfulness.”
  • The dinner at the East Winter Gardens on 14.1.2014, is alleged to have been an occasion of treating voters.
  • “It is submitted that the Court can be sure that at least two of LR’s candidates did not actually reside at the properties whose addresses they used both on the electoral register and on their nomination forms to be THF candidates.”

There is lots, lots more, about 80 A4 pages worth.

Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC

Richard Mawrey QC (Photo © Henderson Chambers)

Richard Mawrey QC (Photo © Henderson Chambers)

The election commissioner Richard Mawrey QC (right) has over 45 years of legal experience.

When acting as an Election Commissioner he set aside the election results in several Birmingham City Council wards after finding evidence of postal ballot abuse and fraud in 2005.

He is on record as severely criticising the whole UK postal vote system, saying, of a Government statement that “the systems already in place to deal with the allegations of electoral fraud are clearly working”, that “anybody who has sat through the case I have just tried and listened to evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic would find this statement surprising.”

Bananas anyone?

Mr Mawrey has an excellent sense of humour as this example from the Mr Mawrey’s Word of Wisdom Facebook page illustrates:

Lutfur Rahman: “We do not have a bank account. We are not a party in that sense. People will make commitments, my Lord, and the money will be spent.”

The Commissioner: “For example, if someone comes to you, Mr Rahman, and says ‘I think you are doing a great job. I want to put £10,000 into your campaign.’ You would not presumably expect them to produce a pile of non-consecutive £50s?”

Mr Mawrey is likely to deliver his judgement after Easter.

What’s next?

If Lutfur Rahman and or Alibor Choudhury are found guilty the 2014 Mayoral election could be declared void and they could be barred from office for three or five years.

The Court is also being asked to void the election on the grounds of general corruption, pursuant to s 115 (2) (a) of the Representation of the People’s Act 1983.

With a general election due in May this year it would be near impossible to have a re-run of the Mayoral election at or near the same time.

Some would argue that it would be near impossible to have a fair Mayoral election in Tower Hamlets ever.

But then who are we to judge?

If the election was declared void it is more likely that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) would put Tower Hamlets council in its entirety under special measures for a couple of years until the dust settles.

This would also give the rest of London time to dig a deep ditch around Tower Hamlets and fill it with water.

Or tow it out to the Thames estuary and let us get on with it.

If Mr Rahman and Mr Choudhury are found innocent then we can all get back to what passes for normal in our borough.

Metropolitan Police investigations

Once the RCJ case is over it seems more than likely that the Metropolitan Police will finally be able to act on whatever – if anything – they have found as as a result of their numerous investigations.

It seems likely that they have had to wait for the conclusion and verdict in the RCJ case before undertaking any high profile activity.

Although it might be that the 15 highly skilled detectives who form the special unit at New Scotland Yard dealing with issues surrounding Tower Hamlets council have found nothing untoward.

Removing the post of mayor

Another more sensible option might be for residents of Tower Hamlets to organise a formal petition for a referendum in the borough to just get rid of the post of directly elected mayor in its entirety and get back to the normal system that virtually everyone else uses.

According to Wikipedia two councils have reverted to the traditional model of a council leader and cabinet executives. The electorate of Stoke-on-Trent voted to remove the post of elected mayor on 23 October 2008, to be replaced with a system of council leader and cabinet. In November 2012 Hartlepool also voted to scrap the position of directly elected mayor in a referendum.

Could Tower Hamlets be the third?

For more information:

 

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There Are 13 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Oldflowspeaks says:

    Govt issues further directions2 #TowerHamlets Council due2 the Mayor not allowing full&open recruitment process! http://t.co/mfMV52FumA

    Here’s another precedent for take over of the council by Govt / getting closer.

  2. Billericaydickie says:

    On the wider question of what happens in the long run I think there are a couple of scenarios. One is that the elected Mayoral position will stay but that there will be a period of direct rule from Westminster as it were. This would give time to go through the electoral role with a fine tooth comb and eliminate all of the fake voters. This still wouldn’t obviate the possibility of Bangladeshi electoral blocks dominating the process but would go someway towards it.

    What will probably happen is that the east end boroughs will be grouped into some sort of super borough incorporating six or more possibly on both sides of the river which would end the dominance of one racial group. What do you think Dan?

    • Mark Baynes says:

      Interesting point, I have heard of the borough of Tower Hamlets being split up and yes probably after a period of direct rule from Westminster. I have also heard the idea of adding some boroughs to boroughs south of the river. Which is odd in some respects and I wonder how practical it would be. Anyone in Wapping fancy becoming the northern bridgehead of Southwark Council?

      • Billericaydickie says:

        It has to be remembered that until the local government reforms of 1965 there were three authorities in what is now Tower Hamlets. Poplar. Bethnal Green and Bow and Stepney.

        The amalgamations were fiercely resisted at the time and the new conglomerate probably will be as well but like its sixties predecessor it will be a fiat accompli as a result of some commission and report.

  3. Dan McCurry says:

    You say you love Wapping, but your comments at the end of this piece suggest you hate Tower Hamlets.

    • Mark Baynes says:

      Dan, which specific comments do you refer to when you say that they suggest that I “hate Tower Hamlets”?

    • Billericaydickie says:

      Dan, you really ought to make your mind up as to just where you stand on all this. Over the last few years you have veered from outright condemnation of Rahman to total support. All a bit strange.

  4. Randal Smith says:

    Where is your information coming from that DCLG will likely put the LBTH in its entirety under administration? This has never been done before so there is no precedence.

    As for just getting rid of the directly elected mayor, there is a minimum number of years that the position must exist, I believe. And I think it is 8 years. I may well be wrong, but you would best check the legislationon this.

    • Mark Baynes says:

      In my view it’s common sense that if the election appeal is proven the DCLG will have to put Tower Hamlets under administration. If ever there was a borough to set a precedent it would be Tower Hamlets. The political situation in the borough would be untenable with a discredited administration with no mayor, no power and no control. If the appeal is not proven then back to business as usual of course.

      I would be interested if there is a minimum duration for the directly elected mayor position, from what I have read so far there is not but would if there is a limit and you find a reference please let us all know, would be very useful.

      Around 11,000 residents would need to sign a petition for a referendum by my calculations.

      • Randal Smith says:

        What’s wrong with following procedure and holding a re-run of the election? It would hardly seem possible to put it all under administration given the statutory timescales for filling a voided position by election which coincides with there being little/no government at Westminster. I rather suspect that Westminster wants to leave us to our own devices in the hope we will sort things out locally.

        • Mark Baynes says:

          Westminster made the mistake of leaving the borough to its own devices for some years and look what’s happened. I would suggest that ‘following procedure’ is the last thing Tower Hamlets needs.

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