Ooh! That headline’s a bit harsh isn’t it?
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
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.”
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.
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:
- City votes to eject elected Mayor (BBC)
- Directly elected mayors are not an effective model for England