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andy erlam

Election court petitioner Andy Erlam

John Biggs is to be congratulated for winning the re-run Tower Hamlets mayoral election.  The result was a clear rejection of Rahmanism and of Rahman’s proxy candidate, Rabina Khan.

We now expect John Biggs to ruthlessly root out the rest of the corruption at the town hall within the three years left in his mandate. If he starts to do this, he can be sure of my and many others’ co-operation.  But he and the Labour Party must also now reflect on the fact that it was Labour that created the crisis in the first place.

That is why Labour was so hostile towards the Election Petition initially and made various attempts to sink it.  Biggs himself was a very reluctant witness who had to be coaxed for months to provide an adequate statement for the court. Almost all other local Labour “leaders” looked the other way.  One allegedly actively dissuaded people from giving evidence.  What is the point of leaders who lead from the back?

There remains a question hanging in the air.  Everyone knew that election corruption was rife in Tower Hamlets. It’s been going on for years, so why didn’t anyone, apart from Ted Jeory, Andrew Gilligan and Mark Baynes, do anything about it? Remember, Rahman was, and in many ways still is, a Labour man.  So the choice in the election was really between Labour and Labour. Return of the One Party State of Tower Hamlets.

Rahman claimed in the election court that senior Labour officials such as Keith Vaz, Ken Livingstone and Len McCluskey had met him and his deputy Alibor Chaodhury and that they had agreed a “pathway” with the party leadership for Rahman to get back into the Labour fold. The Labour leadership has never denied this dirty deal behind the backs of both the Labour Party membership and the electorate. In my view, the only thing that stopped it being implemented was a spanner in the works in the form of the Election Petition.  My reading of Biggs’ victory speech last Thursday was a hint at some form of reconciliation with Tower Hamlets First group councillors. Too eager, too much, too early.

John Biggs

Mayor John Biggs with Labour supporters

Last year Labour decided not to take an Election Petition itself against Rahman, even though it suspected that he had, once again, committed industrial-scale fraud in the mayoral and local elections.  Maybe it was because historically Labour has also been involved in similar tactics? Rahman learnt his skills from Labour.

It’s all very well to talk about “drawing a line”, as Biggs does, but the body will only stand a chance of recovery if all the cancer is cut from the ailing body and we now know that election corruption was and is only the tip of the iceberg as regards corruption within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.  The cancer of corruption is still there.

Intimidation and violence in local elections has not stopped in Tower Hamlets either. A few days before this election a Labour councillor was badly manhandled and bruised outside a mosque because he refused to support Khan.  In typical style, he appears not to be pressing charges “on advice from the elders”.  So supporters of Khan can get away with a potential crime?  And you want these people back in the Labour Party?

It’s my belief that numerous fraudulent and invalid votes were also cast again in Tower Hamlets and the police are investigating. If Khan is seriously considering her own Election Petition, who will it be directed at? My advice to her is: save other people’s money.  It will fail at the first hurdle and “be laughed out of court”.

The police have acceded to my request to extend their enquiries to include the local councillor elections and the courts have agreed that ballot papers must be preserved a further six months.  Complaints can be made direct to the Met at: SETelections@met.police.uk as soon as possible and before November at the very latest.  I hear that local Labour leaders are already advising disappointed 2014 Labour candidates to leave matters – i.e. not co-operate with the police.  And we wonder why so many local police enquiries run into the sand?

If people are now being discouraged from making formal complaints to the police about last year’s local councillor election fraud, they will live with the terrible consequences for years to come.  Incidentally, it has never been clear why Chris Weavers, Labour’s then election agent and local Party chair, failed to challenge any of the poll counts on May 22 2014 at the time. Looking back, was his inaction wise?

It will also be especially interesting to see whether Biggs will root out corruption connected with local land deals.  Scotland Yard is actively examining allegations of very serious fraud and misfeasance in public office on this aspect.  It will be interesting to see if the new mayor opens up all the books to a serious and robust police investigation or concentrates on “reputational” issues like a public affairs consultant for FIFA. There is also the small matter of the fraud issues coming out of the PriceWaterhouse Coopers’ investigation. Why is Scotland Yard turning a blind eye? There must be a reason.

The only aggravation I had on the streets was from a few self-styled Biggs aides who criticised me for ‘splitting the Labour vote’.  No vote belongs to Labour.  Like respect, every vote has to be earned.  Such arrogance has destroyed the ethical power of the Labour Party.  It is anti-democratic and indeed illegal to seek to pressurise voters and candidates. Don’t they know?  I take it as a badge of honour.  Remember Labour created Rahman.

Furthermore, the spectre in the election campaign of both Peter Golds openly boasting in public meetings that he would “lend” second preference votes to Labour, and of Biggs “lending” Labour’s second preferences to the Tories beggars belief. Have these people learnt nothing?

The voters have decided and that decision must be respected. I would like to thank the 1,768 people who voted for me, the many others who (I am told) wanted to but didn’t and the many more who put me down as their second preference.  Many wish to keep in touch and can do so at: andy@redflagac.org

We will now see if Labour will clear up, or cover-up, the mess of its own making.

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IMG_0664John Biggs delivered a far more generous victory speech last night to the Tower Hamlets First brigade than they perhaps deserved.

It wasn’t what he said precisely but the tone he used. I suppose it’s easy and better to be magnanimous in victory than to be crowing and churlish but he congratulated Rabina Khan for her campaign (who, by the way, didn’t reciprocate in her speech – she forgot to say well done and instead focused on the ‘me, me’ parts) and he promised to recognise the fact she polled so many votes. She won almost 26,000 votes on the first round, 1,500, or less than 2 per cent, behind John.

He said we shouldn’t forget that “a lot of bad things have happened” but that we should now move on.

He said he would hold office as a Labour mayor but in also praising Peter Golds he hinted at possible cooperation to come.

Peter, in his speech, struck a more wary tone. He said John won by “borrowing” votes from the other parties. As he said this, John raised a somewhat surprised eyebrow, but given the comments on this blog and on Twitter during the past couple of days, as well as the feedback John’s opponents were getting on the doorstep, I think Peter was doing no more than stating the bleeding obvious.

Peter polled 5,940 votes, or 8.7 per cent of the first round total. This was almost the same as Chris Wilford achieved last year in percentage terms (he got 7,173 votes in total) but far below the 20 per cent the Tories achieved only last month in the general election for the borough’s two constituencies.

And in second preference votes, there were a huge number of Tories who put Labour second yesterday.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 13.59.56For sure, this was an election in which Labour found friends in other parties.

I know that had John won last year he’d been planning to create an administration reflective of the rainbow nature of his support. It would be very surprising were that not the case this time.

The Government commissioners (who like almost all senior council officers will have been relieved by the result) will surely leave once they see functional politics at play again.

This is why Peter was right in his speech at the ExCeL centre to warn about the consequences for THF of last night’s defeat. Where do their band of jokers go now? Labour and the Tories will need to watch their backs when it comes to future candidate selection for councillors. More about them in a future post.

But more immediately, John now has to create an administration. He has already appointed three deputy mayors in Rachael Saunders, Shiria Khatun and Sirajul Islam, but there will be others wanting some reward. It was noticeable that Abdal Ullah, no longer a councillor, was the man who escorted John into the count last night.

There’s now a cabinet and other appointments to be be made. Some in his Labour group will have to bide their time. Will John take a Sir Robin Wales approach and dish out special responsibility allowances like confetti?

And how will he thank the Tories and in particular Peter Golds? Not so long ago, I suggested he’d make an excellent council Speaker. I think he’d love wearing the civic chains and ensuing order in the council chamber. Offering that role to him for a year would seem a wise choice. After that, I’d put him in charge of transparency and anti-corruption: a mini-Eric Pickles.

And then there’s Rabina. Could John offer her something? Would he? Would she accept? A role to encourage more women into politics? It would certainly create a split in the group of 17 “independents”. Or would she prefer to lead their group as Opposition leader. If the latter, she will need to formally join them and then take on Oli Rahman who has assumed that role.

And there is some talk about Rabina’s team examining a possible election petition against John’s win but how serious that is and on what grounds, I’m not sure.

I took some videos of this morning’s speeches and I will publish them once they’ve finished uploading in two hours’ time…

Lastly, congratulations to Labour’s Sabina Akhtar for winning in Stepney and to Andy Erlam and the other petitioners. Andy polled 1,768 votes yesterday – less than 3%  – but his fans are of a far, far higher number than that.

Meanwhile, here are some photos of last night’s fun.

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A day to go and even Radio 4’s Today programme has got in on the act, having just given the Tower Hamlets election its second prime time slot just before the 8pm news.

The tenor of her report was plus ca change: John Biggs facing false allegations on the doorstep that he will close down mosques; accusations by Andy Erlam of possible vote fraud; returning officer John Williams again telling the world we can be confident in the process; Rabina Khan, who has promised to be more transparent than Lutfur, refusing to be interviewed; and every single Bangladeshi voter in the vox pop asserting that Lutfur had been stitched up and that he hadn’t been corruptly elected.

I’m sure Richard Mawrey QC would have been listening with exasperated but unsurprised sighs. Might he be put to work again?

It’s not just Rabina’s campaign which has courted controversy. Peter Golds has been thoroughly enjoying himself but has been let down by a supporter who appeared on one of his leaflets. Rabina’s supporters have unearthed a Facebook posting by a Glen McCarty last year when he felt the need to vent some racist poison after apparently fearing for his wallet walking through Whitechapel. Here’s the posting and and leaflet.

glen mccarty

Perhaps he should have a word with Tory activists Ahmed Hussain and Dr Anwara Ali, who pays their taxes. Peter Golds says he’s appalled by it and has asked for an apology. If a Rabina supporter had written something equivalent there would be justifiable fury and that’s the case here as well.

Meanwhile, Rabina yet again failed to attend a hustings last night, this time on the Isle of Dogs. Here’s the seat that was reserved for her:

rabina chair

She has proved to be a crushing disappointment in this regard. She promised to be more accountable than her boss, Lutfur Rahman, to be more transparent, but she’s simply copied his tactics. This is, I suppose, not surprising when her campaign is being run and managed by Lutfur and his former advisers, including Mohamed Jubair of Channel S (remember his name, I think we’re going to hear a bit more about him soon, I reckon).

She claims she’s going to be her own woman if she’s elected. She hasn’t demonstrated anything like that thus far.

John Biggs has been successful getting out Labour’s big guns to campaign: Tessa Jowell has been a regular; Dan Jarvis came last night, Andy Burnham tonight. Less successful has been the party’s attempt getting out hordes of local activists and perhaps this is a reflection of rising rents in Tower Hamlets where there has traditionally been a flow of students to help at times like this.

One final thought for now: Rabina has just been on BBC London radio boasting about her housing record. But during her time as cabinet member for housing, service charges for Tower Hamlets Homes leaseholders in my old patch of Bow have risen by 30%. A significant reason for this has been the costs dumped on Tower Hamlets Homes by the council for various management services and contracts.

I’ve previously asked her about this, but guess what: no response.

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This is a guest post by Andy Erlam, who initiated the election petition that brought down Lutfur Rahman. He is a former Labour ministerial adviser who lives in Bow and who is now standing on behalf of the Red Flag Anti-Corruption Party for the Tower Hamlets mayor election on June 11.

andy erlam

By Andy Erlam, ‘the man who makes it happen’

My Resolutions

Tower Hamlets has been through a very difficult period, when its local government machine has been in absolute crisis. A local council should simply be a source of help to individuals and the local communities, not a source of irritation, controversy, injustice and sheer dysfunctionality. The problems are not new.

“Divide and rule” is the oldest form of repression. The Election Petition High Court judgement, especially the order for new mayoral election, provide a unique opportunity for Tower Hamlets: to build a new high-quality local government machine worthy of the people and controlled by the people. This is an opportunity in our lifetimes to create outstanding local government here in Tower Hamlets.

It’s not rocket science but it is very important and it will take many people working together to achieve a transformation of the Council, under a new form of leadership – leadership from the front, co-operative and collaborative leadership and leadership with a clear vision and determination to achieve major results.

I am standing for election as not only the mayor of Tower Hamlets but as a new kind of mayor. The people of Tower Hamlets must get back in control of their local council and stay in control.

I am making these resolutions now as a benchmark of what will be achieved. I will:

  1. Ensure that team-working is adopted universally in council business, in the same way as my cross-party team brought about the defeat of the previous mayor in the High Court in April. When people work together co-operatively so much can be achieved. I will ensure that factional in-fighting is minimised.
  2. Ensure that my considerable experience of working in national and international government and in grass-roots community work over many years is applied in the most useful way to our local government, working, of course, as a full-time mayor, with no big political party interfering with my actions.
  3. Ensure that the new permanent Chief Executive is encouraged to act under political direction but without political interference, so making the town hall a happy place to work.
  4. Ensure that the views of all citizens are recognised, making the maximum possible use of direct democracy and respecting the traditions of the British constitution.
  5. Ensure continuous interaction with all councillors, guaranteeing their position as the first point of contact for their supporters. All councillors should be brought into the decision-making processes.
  6. Ensure that new forums for the widest range of interest groups and communities must be formed to keep the Council in touch between elections.
  7. Ensure that the Cabinet is cross-party made up of councillors from all the political parties and that Cabinet and Council decisions comply with the highest standards of transparency and integrity. Power will be delegated.
  8. Ensure that new checks and balances introduced to ensure that the elected mayor is accountable to the Cabinet, the Council and the public. These are needed to ensure good decision-making in the interests of the whole community. Power should be shared with the Cabinet, the whole Council and the whole community. Some believe that the elected mayoral system places too much power in one pair of hands. The arrangements can be modified and Tower Hamlets can return to a more shared system of leadership. All these things need careful review and reform.
  9. Ensure, in particular, that the Oversight and Scrutiny Committee of the Council is treated with respect and that the mayor attends regularly and provides as much information and asssitance as possible. With the right relationships, everyone benefits.
  10. Ensure that the Council recruits staff from the widest range of people, so as to reflect the communities in a balanced way, including the recruitment of disabled people.
  11. Ensure that subsidised public housing is not used as a source of private income or otherwise abused. New systems of accountability to tenants and leaseholders are needed. The role of local social housing providers must be reviewed. Problems and shortcomings must be exposed and dealt with.
  12. Ensure a continuing improvement in education by strengthening systems of support and recognising the central role of school governors. Education is about helping children and young people finding their niche in life.
  13. Ensure a fresh tradition of trust between the council, the police and the community. The Metropolitan Police have given priority to improving policing in the Borough. The police service should be equally good for all local people.   The new local senior police officers are open to reform and improvement.
  14. Ensure social cohesion by the strict adoption of a one language policy in all official business, with no sector of society taking preference over any other.
  15. Ensure religious independence by removing all political involvement.
  16. Ensure that the Borough’s reputation as having on the one hand the second highest average income in the country and on the other, pockets of severe poverty, is reflected by reinvestment in the community, such as supporting more children’s nurseries.
  17. Ensure that sensible, focused and appropriate business policies are introduced to foster dialogue with local big employers (e.g. at Canary Wharf) and small and medium-sized companies which have a key role of play in generating wealth and wellbeing. If we are serious about reviving ‘the high street’, then we must put a stop to victimising the customers of local shops through excessively punitive Tower Hamets council parking policies.
  18. Ensure the provision of impartial and useful information on council business to all Council taxpayers and stakeholders.
  19. Ensure that the government Commissioners, (paid by us), are encouraged to make the most useful contribution to a brand new system of government, especially in the management of grants.
  20. Ensure that a confidential “hotline” is established direct through to the mayor for anyone to raise concerns.
  21. Ensure that Tower Hamlets Council is transformed with the aim of it becoming known as the most effective and admired local authority in the country.

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It seems to be buried on the website for “Mayor Lutfur Rahman” (home page here) but it is there. This:

Lutfur appeal

Full text here:

Lutfur Rahman will be appealing the judgment made against him at last Thursday’s election court. He continues to reject all claims of wrongdoing and we hold that the integrity of the court system was marred by the bias, slurs and factual inaccuracies in the election judgment. There is a petition in his defence available here for those who wish to sign and a rally will be held on Thursday.

Tower Hamlets First councillors reject the election court’s claims that we are nothing more than a ‘one man band.’ We support Lutfur Rahman as a party because he has led in delivering record numbers of social and affordable homes, investing in our young people with maintenance allowances and university grants and standing up to Tory and Labour austerity. We support former Councillor Alibor Choudhury because of his record as Cabinet Member for Resources of doing the hard work needed to make these policies happen.

As such we will continue to serve residents. Whilst Lutfur Rahman appeals, Councillor Oli Rahman has stepped in as acting mayor and will be working to ensure that top quality Council services continue to be accessible to all residents. While other parties obsess over the politics of the past, securing decent jobs, fair housing and excellent support services for our borough will continue to remain our top priority.

We will also be deciding this week on a candidate to endorse in the forthcoming mayoral election and election for Stepney Ward, and we will make that decision based on who we believe is best placed to deliver stronger communities and a fairer future in Tower Hamlets.

At least they describe Alibor as a “former councillor”.

The grounds for his judicial review are not yet known. I’m not a lawyer but those who are say Richard Mawrey’s judgment looks “appeal proof”. For example, here is the view of legal expert David Allen Green who tweets as Jack of Kent:

More of this to come. At some point we will also no doubt find out who has been paying Lutfur’s hefty bills.

In the meantime, a quick update on the politics of Tower Hamlets First. Acting mayor Oli Rahman and Rabina Khan appear to be the frontrunners.

And it is Lutfur himself who will decide. He is, according to sources, “taking soundings from leaders of community groups”. Which groups these are have not been specified, but one will certainly be the Islamic Forum Europe. Anyone who underestimates the influence the IFE has on these things is mistaken.

Oli is not IFE. And neither actually is Rabina. However, she is helped in this respect by the position of her husband, Cllr Aminur Khan, who is. She is known to disagree with the IFE on many things and I’d be surprised if this hasn’t created lively conversations around the Khans’ dining table.

Rabina is seen by a section of younger Bengalis as bright, articulate and refreshing. She apparently knows how to charm on the doorstep, how to enter people’s homes and “have a cup of tea in the kitchen”, as someone put it to me last night. I suspect that were she to be selected there would be many in Labour’s camp who would say they were supporting John Biggs but who would not cast their vote for him.

But would she be the puppet that Lutfur would want while he fights to clear his name, or even after he fails in that task? What real experience does she have in running a large organisation? I’ve always thought her quite good in the council chamber when reading a prepared script. However, I’ve not seen too much evidence that she’s good at thinking on her feet. But I may be wrong.

As for Oli, he’s apparently loving his new role. He’s been having regular meetings with the two Government Commissioners and promising to work closely with them. I’m told they’ve respected him for that. It’s not something that Lutfur did. In fact, he would be a change from Lutfur in other respects. He’d scrap the mayoral car and chauffeur for a start and take public transport (and not cabs as he used to do…). He would also only hire mayoral advisers where “absolutely necessary”.

But while he’s enjoying the role, it’s not clear for how much longer he can carry on doing it. The executive mayoral role is full time and I’m told that Whitehall rules forbid civil servants from carrying out that job. Oli, of course, is a civil servant with the DWP. And the DWP has apparently written to him to say that Eric Pickles’s DCLG has highlighted this little headache.

Oli is enlisting the help of Unison, so watch this space, but it is possible that Oli may have to vacate his acting mayor role before the mayoral by election in which case someone else may have to step up.

Dropping like flies.

Meanwhile, as you all know, Andy Erlam has decided to stand. If the Tories choose Peter Golds, among the main contenders it will be one British Bangladeshi versus three or four white men. The divisions will no doubt continue.

I wish they’d all just hammer out a rainbow coalition deal.

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Judge Richard Mawrey ruling on Tower HamletsRichard Mawrey QC, the Commissioner of the forthcoming Tower Hamlets election court hearing, yesterday overturned a decision to hold the trial at the Town Hall and ruled it must be heard instead at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand.

He ruled it will start at 10am on February 2 in Court 38.

It is an early victory for the four petitioners, who are led by Andy Erlam and represented by barrister Francis Hoar.

Another judge at a preliminary hearing had previously rejected their request for it to be heard outside Tower Hamlets and had recommended the town hall.

However, in a written ruling yesterday, Mr Mawrey said the town hall could not be considered a “neutral venue”.

He said there was now “considerable hostility” in the borough to the arrival of Eric Pickles’s commissioners.

And he noted that George Galloway and Ken Livingstone had made “very public calls for campaigns of harassment to be directed against what they describe as interference with the democratic process”.

At a rally last month, Livingstone called for Lutfur’s supporters to protest outside the homes of the commissioners.

All this has been clearly observed by Mr Mawrey.

He said a “considerable” volume of evidence/allegations against Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Returning Officer John Williams had now been placed before him.

He stressed he had made no judgment whatsoever on the veracity of the allegations.

However, he said the allegations included suggestions there was a significant body of support for the mayor in the town hall–where an election petition would normally be heard.

He wrote: “The witness statements include a body of evidence to the effect that the Town Hall staff contains a significant body of political supporters of Mr Rahman whose conduct in the past is said to have gone well beyond what is permissible in the case of local civil servants. There are also allegations (which may or may not be well founded) of Town Hall staff having been involved in (or at least complicit in) active electoral fraud.”

He also revealed in his written ruling that the Metropolitan Police had been present at the recent confidential scrutiny of the Mayor’s vote at the Royal Courts of Justice. He said the police were conducting their own investigations into electoral fraud.

This time, it seems it’s all being taken much more seriously.

Here is Mr Mawrey’s explanation in full. Paragraphs 7-12 are particularly interesting.

NOTE: In the interests of conversational debate, I am going to allow comments on this post BUT please do not ascribe any guilt to any individual. Keep the discussion around the general issues of the election petition and the venue. I stress that allegations have been made, all of which are denied and are yet to be tried. Comments will be moderated.

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE M/350/14

QUEEN’S BENCH DIVISION

IN THE MATTER OF THE REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT 1983

AND IN THE MATTER OF A MAYORAL ELECTION FOR THE LONDON BOROUGH OF TOWER HAMLETS HELD ON 22 MAY 2014

BETWEEN:

(1) ANDREW ERLAM

(2) DEBBIE SIMONE

(3) AZMAL HUSSEIN

(4) ANGELA MOFFAT

Petitioners

-and-

(1) MOHAMMED LUTFUR RAHMAN

(2) JOHN S WILLIAMS (RETURNING OFFICER)

Respondents

DIRECTIONS ORDER No 7: 19 DECEMBER 2014

REASONS (not part of the order)

1 I have confirmed with the Rota Judges that the powers conferred on an Election Commissioner under the Representation of the People Act 1983 (‘the 1983 Act’) s130(5) entitle a Commissioner to order that the trial should take place outside the electoral area under s 130(6). Such an order may be made if the court is ‘satisfied that special circumstances exist rendering it desirable that the petition should be tried elsewhere’.

2 I appreciate that an application was made to Mr Justice Supperstone for an order under s 130(6) and that on 31 July 2014, he dismissed that application. I have read his judgment on that occasion which sets out the grounds on which the Petitioners were then contending that the trial should take place outside the Borough and the reasons why the Judge rejected those grounds and refused the order. Having considered that judgment I would say, respectfully, that I entirely agree with it and that it was the correct decision to be made on the limited grounds and the equally limited evidential material before the court on that occasion.

3 The position today is entirely different from that which was before Supperstone J in July. The parties’ cases have been fully pleaded and a very considerable volume of evidence has been served.

4 May I emphasize at this point that I have, as yet, seen and heard none of the witnesses and I have formed no conclusions on the evidence whatsoever. At this stage of the proceedings the allegations made by all parties in their witness statements remain allegations, to be proved or disproved at trial. Insofar as I have taken those witness statements into account when making this decision, I have in no way prejudged their reliability or veracity. My approach is to treat the allegations on the basis that they might be true or they might not.

5 In general the most likely venue for the trial of a petition challenging a local authority election is the authority’s Town Hall. It is not the inevitable venue and I have tried other petitions (notably Birmingham) in some other building within the electoral area. In this petition, however, the Town Hall was put forward as the most suitable venue and I shall approach the question by considering that venue first.

6 As the parties are aware, I have been uneasy about the Town Hall as a venue from an early stage. This case differs from the norm of local authority petitions. Historically, local election petitions have concerned events in a single ward (occasionally two wards as in Birmingham in 2005). In those circumstances, the Town Hall of the Borough represents both a convenient and a relatively neutral venue. Here the challenge is to the election of an executive mayor whose headquarters is inevitably the Town Hall itself. Even were feelings not running as high as they are here, there must be grave doubts as to propriety of a petition to unseat an executive mayor being tried in his own Town Hall.

7 This case is unusual in that there are persistent and highly publicised allegations that witnesses, in particular witnesses for the  Petitioners, have been subject to intimidation of themselves or their families both within the Borough and, indeed, in Bangladesh. Certain of the witness statements have been served with the names and addresses of the witness redacted and there is a possibility that I shall be asked to make witness anonymity orders. As said above, I cannot and do not at this stage decide whether these allegations are well-founded but it would be irresponsible to discount them and to decide the venue in a vacuum. 

8 I have also to look at the question of intimidation in the context of the allegations, supported by witness statements, of widespread voter intimidation at the polls. These allegations also cannot be ignored. I fully appreciate that the first Respondent denies the allegations of intimidation and denies that, if it did occur, it can be laid at his door. None the less the evidence submitted does raise at least a triable issue as to intimidation.

9 Furthermore the Town Hall cannot realistically be regarded as a neutral venue. The witness statements include a body of evidence to the effect that the Town Hall staff contains a significant body of political supporters of Mr Rahman whose conduct in the past is said to have gone well beyond what is permissible in the case of local civil servants. There are also allegations (which may or may not be well founded) of Town Hall staff having been involved in (or at least complicit in) active electoral fraud.

10 In this context, though I accept that it is not yet evidence in the case and may never become so, these allegations find considerable support in the PwC report commissioned by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. It would do little to enhance the view of the court as a neutral and impartial venue if it were held in a venue which is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be staffed by people who are, to put it neutrally, partisan. There would be legitimate fears that the staff might obstruct or identify vulnerable witnesses and, whatever precautions are taken, the security of documents would always have a question mark over it (however unjustified that might turn out to be).

11 When the matter was before Supperstone J the concern raised was of disorder at the trial and the Judge pointed, quite rightly, to the powers of a Commissioner to enlist the assistance of the Police. Events have, as said above, moved on somewhat. It is no longer primarily a question of maintaining an orderly trial. If that were the only concern, I would not be revisiting the earlier decision. The fact is that the position of the Metropolitan Police has become more complex, as it is no secret that the Met is conducting its own enquiries as to potential criminal offences committed in the course of the May election (hence the involvement of officers at the Scrutiny) and has been further dragged into this case by the allegations made on both sides of witness intimidation. Nor can I overlook that the case itself does involve criticism (which, as I say, may be entirely unfounded) of the involvement of the Met in policing the election itself. Thus the issues raised before Supperstone J have been overtaken by the subsequent history of this petition.

12 An additional change of circumstances arises from the Secretary of State’s publication of the PwC report and his appointment of commissioners to take over certain of the functions of the Council. Those commissioners have already started work at the Town Hall. The appointment of the commissioners has been met with considerable hostility in certain areas and I cannot overlook the fact that, at a rally attended by the first Respondent, certain of his high-profile political supporters such as Mr Ken Livingstone and Mr George Galloway MP made very public (and much broadcast) calls for campaigns of harassment to be directed against what they describe as interference with the democratic process.

13 This might be mitigated if the Town Hall were otherwise a suitable venue for a trial but it is not. I carried out an inspection last week and the facilities are simply not appropriate for a lengthy trial. The only available courtroom is the Council Chamber. This cannot really be converted into an acceptable courtroom. It has fixed desks which are not convenient for a three-party case, especially one with copious documents. There is no real space for a ‘witness box’. Everything would have to be cleared out for Council meetings. There are no practicable rooms for the judge’s retiring or for the parties’ legal teams. More to the point, the Council Chamber is in the heart of the office area with the staff problems already referred to.

14 For all these reasons I have ruled out the Town Hall as a venue.

15 I indicated at an early stage, when the Petitioners raised their objections, that the parties should attempt to find possible alternative venues within the Borough. The Returning Officer and his solicitors have made considerable efforts to find an alternative venue and I made a tour of the four venues they had located. None of them was remotely suitable and some of the problems involved in the Town Hall as a venue would have applied to those venues even if they had been suitable.

16 I have thus, with great reluctance, come to the conclusion that there are here the kind of special circumstances envisaged by the 1983 Act and that the proper course is to order the trial to be held in the Royal Courts of Justice.

17 Supperstone J remarked, quite correctly if I may say so, one of the reasons for holding election courts in the electoral area concerned is to allow local public access to the court. This is fair as far as it goes but it must be seen in context. When the rule developed in the nineteenth century public transport was much less available and much less affordable than today. In any event, the rule itself does carry its own limitations. In my experience, petitions challenging the election in a ward of the council are heard centrally (often in the Town Hall) which in a large electoral area (Birmingham is a good example) may be several miles away from the ward concerned.

18 The RCJ are, of course, situated in the City of London which is the borough immediately adjacent to Tower Hamlets. If the contested election had been in, say, Merton or Enfield, then the difficulty of the citizens of the borough attending court would be a significant factor. The RCJ may be considered one of the easiest places to get to by public transport in central London and I cannot see any appreciable hardship involved in the citizens of Tower Hamlets attending a trial there.

19 I have therefore liaised with Mr Evans of the Elections Office and he has secured the use of Court 38. It is a large court and its position in the West Green Building will obviate many of the problems attendant on use of a court in the main building.

20 I realise that this may cause some inconvenience to the Respondents but I am satisfied that the interests of a fair and publically transparent trial require the move to be made.

_

21 Finally I should wish to record in these reasons my thanks to Mr Emyr Thomas of the second Respondent’s solicitors for his part in locating and inspecting the alternative venues.

Richard B Mawrey QC

Commissioner

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This is a guest post by Andy Erlam, one of the four Tower Hamlets election petitioners (along with Debbie Simone, Azmal Hussain and Angela Moffat). It’s a response to my blog post yesterday, here.

It is kind of Ted Jeory to give some more uninvited advice about how we best manage the Election Petition case.  However, we are sure Commissioner Mawrey QC does not need his instructions interpreted by Ted.

The Commissioner has announced that he may allow statements to be included in the case without the names and addresses being revealed to Lutfur Rahman or John Williams or their legal teams. This is a significant development which we had a duty to inform the press and the public of.

There are some other inaccuracies in Ted’s account, which is not surprising as he did not attend the Press Conference.

Who did attend, we are told, was a spy for Lutfur Rahman, an uninvited solicitor, a trespasser in fact, so Ted may wish to check with him/her.

The comment made by Janet Digby-Baker OBE was slightly misquoted. The case she was referring to was another case and she made it to illustrate how nasty intimidation can become.

Of course, the intimidation and the threatening of witnesses is itself an extremely serious criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment on conviction.

This is the worst way to show contempt for the court and we will not shy away from reporting each and every reported incident to both the court and to the police and carefully monitor progress of any investigation. The police have not yet covered themselves in glory in this case, but we live in hope.

We will respect the court but we expect our opponents to respect the people.

The Scrutiny of the entire mayor election vote starts in the High Court on Monday morning November 3 and as it takes place in the Royal Court of Justice, we can expect that it will be a sedate affair with special care taken towards transparency and due process.

We leave it to your readers to decide whether this will be better than the Tower Hamlets election count of May 23-27.

Instead of sniping ‎from the sidelines, Ted should get back to some quality investigative journalism:

Who is financing Lutfur’s hugely expensive legal team?

Are we certain the Tower Hamlets ratepayer isn’t somehow financing Lutfur’s legal team?

What does the PwC report show and recommend?

Surely a leak from PwC can be organised? I am reliably informed that LBTH has tried to “lean” on PwC which if true is surely another gross miscalculation.

‎Ted predicted wrongly that we would be laughed out of court at the initial High Court hearing in July.

In fact, the unwise attempt to have the case struck-out supported by 10 QCs and solicitors ‎(yes 10 and some paid for by the tax payer) against our brilliant barrister, Francis Hoar, was thrown out of court.

A further High Court Challenge over the PwC report, also paid for by the Tower Hamlets taxpayer, was later rejected by another judge as “hopeless”.

That has not deterred the mayor from seeking another expensive oral hearing which will take place on November 14.

Ted may be impressed by famous QCs but we will not be intimidated. Taking on hugely expensive lawyers is not a sign of strength, but of weakness.

We are not frightened of anyone.

Comment by Ted Jeory: I’m a bit puzzled that a petitioner who is going to court over allegations of impropriety is urging someone in PwC to leak an official report. I think Andy is right to ask who is funding Lutfur’s legal team; maybe he should set down a marker and fully disclose who is funding his own team.

I maintain that the petitioners are brave…but they’d perhaps be wiser to do their talking in the courtroom (as I think Richard Mawrey QC would prefer).

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