Update: Full text PDF file of judgement at bottom of page.
Ooh what a kerfuffle! It’s not possible to accurately report on today’s news in one story so there will be several. This allows us to properly cover the story and to write the words “ex-Mayor Rahman” as many times as possible.
Below are some highlights of the judgment by the Electoral Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC. Full text will be available sometime in the next few days.
“The result of the decisions reached in this judgment will be that Mr Rahman’s election will be avoided and he will be disqualified from standing in the new election.”
Lutfur Rahman – a blatant lyer
295 Election courts deal with politicians. As a generalisation, politicians do not welcome questions unless from friendly sources. It is a well-recognised trait of politicians, especially when questioned by the media, to avoid answering the question and to say, instead, what they conceive their ‘message’ to be. Even when feared interviewers ask the same question repeatedly – the name of Mr Jeremy Paxman comes to mind – it rarely elicits anything but the prepared non-answer. While this may make for entertaining broadcasting, it is sometimes less than helpful in a court of law.
296 Mr Rahman exemplified this trait to an extreme level. Faced with a straight question, he proved himself almost pathologically incapable of giving a straight answer. He was also extremely discursive so that his non-answer to the question would often ramble on until interrupted by a repetition of the question or, occasionally, an attempt (normally unavailing) for the court to obtain an answer by re-phrasing the question. Mr Hoar’s complaint that the length of his cross-examination was due to the failure of Mr Rahman to answer questions was by no means unjustified.
297 In short, Mr Rahman was evasive and discursive to a very high degree.
298 Sadly, it must also be said that he was not truthful. In one or two crucial matters he was caught out in what were quite blatant lies. They will be instanced at the appropriate point in the judgment.
Cllr. Shahed Ali
338 At this point I shall return to Councillor Shahed Ali. He was registered at two addresses in the Whitechapel Ward. Two polling cards were issued and, on polling day, two people turned up at the WH3 polling station and voted – for Mr Rahman….
341 Viewing this realistically, it is inconceivable that the second vote was cast by a member of the public without the knowledge and consent of Mr Ali. The court can be satisfied that one of two things must have happened:
a) both votes were cast by Mr Ali – illegal practice under s 61(2)
b) second vote was cast by someone else with Mr Ali’s connivance – personation (corrupt practice) under s 60.
466 PwC analysed the increases between officer recommendations and the final sums fixed by the Mayor in two maps of the Borough by ward showing which wards had had their grants increased (in some cases massively increased) and which wards had had their grants reduced from officer recommendations. A comparison of those maps with how people voted in 2014 shows an interesting correlation between how much money was channelled to the ward and how many voters turned out for THF. In Stepney Green, the total recommended by officers was £99,708. By the time it had been signed off by Mr Rahman and Mr Choudhury, the grant total had become £258,500 (an increase of over 150%). Of course, it may be pure coincidence that Stepney Green happened to be the ward where Mr Choudhury was the THF candidate.
467 Shadwell’s grant increased from £204,386 to £460,750. Shadwell returned two THF candidates, one of whom was Ms Rabina Khan.
Mohammed Miah – not a major player
469… Having seen Mr Miah and having heard his evidence, it is clear that he is not (whatever he may feel) a major player in the Mayor’s inner circle. He struck the court as a man who would essentially do what he was told by anyone with a stronger character than himself. While the allocation of grants that occurred under this supposed chairmanship was certainly grossly improper and possibly (the court does not need to decide this) unlawful under local authority law, he seems merely to have nodded the decisions through without making any waves.
484 Where does this bring us when considering this aspect of bribery? What has been proved may be summarised as follows:
a) the administration of grants was firmly in the personal hands of Mr Rahman, assisted by his two cronies, Councillors Asad and Choudhury;
b) in administering the grants policy, Mr Rahman acted in total disregard of the Council’s officers, its members and, almost certainly, the law;
c) grants were increased, substantially and unjustifiably, from the amounts recommended by officers who had properly carried out the Council’s investigation and assessment procedure;
d) large grants were made to organisations who were totally ineligible or who failed to meet the threshold for eligibility;
e) grants were made to organisations that had not applied for them;
f) the careful attempts of PwC to marry up grants to ascertainable levels of deprivation and need in the Borough had resulted in the conclusion that it was impossible to do so: grants were not based on need;
g) the lion’s share of grants went to organisations that were run by and/or for the Bangladeshi community;
h) the main thrust of Mr Rahman’s political campaigning both as leader of the Council and later as Mayor was to target the Bangladeshi community and to convince that community that loyalty to the community meant loyalty to him;
i) even within the Bangladeshi community, grants were targeted at the wards where support for Mr Rahman and his candidates was strongest while wards where their chances of success were slim lost out.
Conclusions on bribery by grant
485 It must be confessed that this is by far the aspect of the case that has occasioned the court the most difficulty. Bribery by grant is, patently, some distance away from the simple and straightforward bribes paid by aspiring politicians in the days of Mr Disraeli’s first ministry.
486 Some questions may easily be answered. Was it a purpose (albeit not the only purpose) of these grants to convince the beneficiaries of the activities of the organisations concerned
that the Mayor was looking after their community and the continuance of this benefit depended on his being re-elected in 2014? The answer to this question is undoubtedly: yes.
Were those grants which were improperly made (whether by increasing the grant from the officers’ recommendations, or by making grants to those deemed ineligible, or by making grants to those who had not sought them) targeted at the Bangladeshi community in general and at that community in the wards likely to vote for Mr Rahman and to return THF Councillors? Patently, yes.
Was the making of those grants corrupt? Again, this seems inescapable.
Same election but parallel universes.
576 As the court commented perhaps somewhat wryly, listening to the evidence would convince anyone other than a hardened judge that the witnesses had been describing two entirely different elections or, perhaps, the same election but in parallel universes.
592 Though Mr Penny [for Rahman] did his best to counter the allegations by calling many witnesses who claimed to have attended polling stations without observing anything amiss, the body of evidence to the contrary was overwhelming and convincing. By contrast, the witnesses for Mr Rahman were not always very impressive.
Quite obviously Mr Rahman and his team had rounded up a large number of sympathetic voters and had handed them pro forma witness statements with only the name of the witness and of the polling station to be filled in. Witnesses whose command of English turned out in the witness box to be rudimentary nonetheless produced polished English prose in their witness statements containing words that appeared to baffle them in cross-examination.
The occasional witness claimed to have typed out his witness statement himself, oblivious to the fact that its appearance was absolutely identical to that of other (allegedly unconnected) witnesses. The nadir came when one witness gave a graphic account of how he had attended a polling station to cast his vote and found it a haven of tranquillity, only to be confronted by Mr Hoar [for petitioners] with absolutely incontrovertible evidence that the witness had, in fact, voted by post well before polling day and could not have voted in person on the day.
599 Ms Chrissy Townsend was a polling station agent for the Labour Party in Lansbury Ward and spent the day visiting the five polling stations in her ward. She was obviously an apprehensive witness and her witness statement said ‘I have not come forward until now because I have been frightened of intimidation and threats.’ She said:
I went to Aberfeldy Culloden School65. I went there with my husband in the car with a colleague who was also a polling agent. When we approached the area of the polling station in Aberfeldy Street we were besieged with canvassers for Tower Hamlets First, so much so that I felt intimidated. People were banging on windows with the THF leaflets. The situation was so bad that I thought there was going to be some sort of accident. I could not even open a door and we had to go down another road, Dee Street, where the polling station is situated where there were more people there. I noticed that Ohid Ahmed, the then Deputy Mayor, was present. I got out of the car and got into conversation with an elderly lady who told me that she was frightened to go in and vote and said that she had decided not to vote as a result of the intimidation. I offered to help her get to the polling station but she said she was going home.
Election of Rahman as Mayor void
634 The result of the decisions reached in this judgment will be that Mr Rahman’s election will be avoided and he will be disqualified from standing in the new election. The findings will necessarily lead to adverse consequences for Mr Rahman.
Corrupt practices have extensively prevailed
635 From those decisions, particularly the decisions above on the issue of general corruption under S164, it follows that the court will have to report that ‘corrupt practices have extensively prevailed at the election in the area of the authority for which the election was held.’ Given the nature of THF as a ‘party’ and the reality of its control by Mr Rahman, this means that the election of all THF Councillors must be taken to have been achieved with the benefit of the corrupt and illegal practices found by this judgment to have been committed.
640 Mr Choudhury did not avail himself of these opportunities. The court considers that it has the power to name Mr Choudhury under s 145 and has no hesitation in formally naming Mr Choudhury as personally guilty of corrupt and illegal practices. This means that he must vacate his office as Councillor forthwith and will suffer the statutory period of disqualification under s 160 of the 1983 Act.
Exemplary courage of petitioners
643 To bring an election petition as a private citizen requires enormous courage. If things go wrong and the petition is dismissed, the Petitioners face a potentially devastating bill of costs which, unless they are very fortunate, may well bankrupt them. There is no access to public funding: Parliament has left the policing of fair and democratic elections to the chance that concerned citizens will become involved at their own expense. Whether that is an appropriate and sufficient way to protect democracy is open to question.
644 If the bringing of an election requires courage in ordinary circumstances, bringing a petition to try to unseat Mr Rahman required courage of a very much higher order.
The four Petitioners, then, have shown exemplary courage in bringing and persevering with this Petition. They have endured a difficult, exhausting and anxious eleven months.
And they have been vindicated.
Cllr. Peter Golds
646 The Petitioners have been greatly aided by Councillor Golds. The court considered Mr Golds to be an impressive man and a reliable witness, and much of his evidence in this case has been accepted.
661 For Mr Hoar, this has been a complete tour de force. He accepted the case on the basis of direct access. That is to say that his four clients, members of the public, could not afford to instruct and therefore did not instruct solicitors. Mr Hoar, with such assistance as his lay clients could give him, has thus single-handedly conducted the entirety of the case: pleadings, witness statements, disclosure, directions, the Scrutiny, preparation of the trial and conduct of the trial. Though he occasionally allowed his enthusiasm to get the better of his judgment, he has carried the entire case on his back and has brought it to a successful conclusion. By any standards this was a considerable feat and worthy of the admiration of the court.
662 As has been pointed out above, the whole question of electoral law is currently being investigated by the Law Commission. This is a very welcome development. The Commission has a long and distinguished history of applying rigorous analysis to legal problems and difficulties, and coming up with sensible and workable solutions that command public support.
Electoral Petition system
665 The [Electoral] Petition system is obsolete and unfit for purpose. It is wholly unreasonable to leave it to defeated candidates or concerned electors, like the present Petitioners, to undertake the arduous and extremely expensive task of bringing proceedings and pursuing them to a conclusion entirely at their own expense and with the risk of bankruptcy if they fail to surmount the Grand National sized fences placed in the path of Petitioners. We do not leave it to the victim of burglary or fraud (a fortiori the victim of rape) to bring civil proceedings against the perpetrator as the only way of achieving justice. Why do we leave it to the victims of electoral fraud to go it alone?
Formal conclusion of the Court
672 The court is satisfied and certifies that in the election for the Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets held on 22 May 2014:
a) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was guilty by his agents of corrupt practices contrary to:
i) s 60 of the 1983 Act;
ii) s 62A of the 1983 Act;
72 As witness the affair of the UKIP sausage-rolls.
b) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was guilty by his agents of illegal practices contrary to:
i) s 13D(1) of the 1983 Act;
ii) s 61(1)(a) of the 1983 Act;
c) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was personally guilty and guilty by his agents of an illegal practice contrary to s 106 of the 1983 Act;
d) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was guilty by his agents of an illegal practice contrary to s 111 of the 1983 Act;
e) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was personally guilty and guilty by his agents of a corrupt practice contrary to s 113 of the 1983 Act;
f) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was personally guilty and guilty by his agents of a corrupt practice contrary to s 115 of the 1983 Act.
673 The court is also satisfied to the relevant standard of proof and certifies that in the election for the Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets held on 22 May 2014:
a) there were corrupt and illegal practices for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of the Respondent Mr Rahman at that election and
b) those corrupt or illegal practices so extensively prevailed that they may reasonably be supposed to have affected the result of such election.
674 The court therefore declares the election of Mr Rahman as Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to have been avoided by such corrupt or illegal practices pursuant to s 159(1) of the 1983 Act and also to have been avoided on the ground of general corruption pursuant to s 164(1)(a) of the 1983 Act.
675 It is declared that Mr Rahman shall be incapable of being elected to fill the vacancy for the office of Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets under s 164(1)(b) of the 1983 Act.
676 Mr Rahman is a solicitor of the Senior Courts and the court is obliged by s 162 of the 1983 Act to bring this judgment to the attention of his professional body, the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority. It is ordered that a copy of the judgment be sent to the SRA.
677 The court will also report and certify that Mr Alibor Choudhury was guilty of a corrupt practice contrary to s 113 of the 1983 Act and illegal practices contrary to ss 106 and 111 of the 1983 Act.
678 As the court is required to consider the matter under s 145(3) of the 1983 Act, the court finds that corrupt practices extensively prevailed at the election both of the Mayor and of the Councillors for the twenty wards of Tower Hamlets held on 22 May 2014.
679 These conclusions will be embodied in the certificate of the court and will be the subject of the court’s report to the High Court under sections 145, 158 and 160 of the 1983 Act.
680 Their effect is firstly that Mr Rahman’s election as Mayor on 22 May 2014 was void, that is to say, it is as if it had never taken place. He has not lawfully been Mayor since that date. Secondly, as has been said, Mr Choudhury must immediately vacate the office of Councillor. Thirdly it will be Mr Williams’s task to arrange for a new Mayoral election and for a by-election in the Ward of Stepney.
The ruthless ambition of one man
681 The evidence laid before this court, limited though it necessarily was to the issues raised in the Petition, has disclosed an alarming state of affairs in Tower Hamlets. This is not the consequence of the racial and religious mix of the population, nor is it linked to any ascertainable pattern of social or other deprivation. It is the result of the ruthless ambition of one man.
The real losers? The Bangladeshi community.
682 The real losers in this case are the citizens of Tower Hamlets and, in particular, the Bangladeshi community. Their natural and laudable sense of solidarity has been cynically perverted into a sense of isolation and victimhood, and their devotion to their religion has been manipulated – all for the aggrandisement of Mr Rahman. The result has been to alienate them from the other communities in the Borough and to create resentment in those other communities. Mr Rahman and Mr Choudhury, as has been seen, spent a great deal of time accusing their opponents, especially Mr Biggs, of ‘dividing the community’ but, if anyone was ‘dividing the community’, it was they.
683 The Bangladeshi community might have thought itself fortunate to have been the recipient of the Mayor’s lavish spending but in the end the benefits were small and temporary and the ill effects long-lasting. It was fool’s gold.
684 Central government has already had to intervene once, and, on 4 November 2014, the Secretary of State, Mr Eric Pickles, announced the appointment of commissioners to take over a number of functions of the Mayor and Council, particularly in relation to grants. It is obviously not for this court to suggest, still less recommend, any further course of action but it seems likely that the governance of this Borough will have to be examined in the not too distant future.
685 On past form, it appears inevitable that Mr Rahman will denounce this judgment as yet another example of the racism and Islamophobia that have hounded him throughout his political life. It is nothing of the sort. Mr Rahman has made a successful career by ignoring or flouting the law (as this Petition demonstrates) and has relied on silencing his critics by accusations of racism and Islamophobia. But his critics have not been silenced and neither has this court.
The law must be applied fairly
686 Events of recent months in contexts very different from electoral malpractice have starkly demonstrated what happens when those in authority are afraid to confront wrongdoing for fear of allegations of racism and Islamophobia. Even in the multicultural society which is 21st century Britain, the law must be applied fairly and equally to everyone. Otherwise we are lost.
All 200 pages right here