Friday, November 05, 2010

Labour MP's election at Oldham & Saddleworth deemed void

The verdict of the Special Election Court, held in Saddleworth, was announced this morning. It found against Phil Woolas, the shadow immigration minister.

Mr Justice Teare said: "In an election address entitled The Examiner, the
respondent [Mr Woolas] made a statement of fact, the meaning of which was
that the petitioner [Mr Watkins] attempted to woo, that is to seek, the
electoral support of Muslims who advocated violence, in particular
violence to the respondent.

"In a further election address entitled Labour Rose, he made a statement
of fact the meaning of which was that the petitioner had refused to
condemn extremists who advocated violence against the respondent.

"We have concluded that both of these statements, although made in the
context of an election and said to arise from a political position adopted
by the petitioner, were in relation to the petitioner's personal character
or conduct.

"In our judgment to say that a person has sought the electoral support of
persons who advocate extreme violence, in particular to his personal
opponent, clearly attacks his personal character or conduct.

"It suggests that he is willing to condone threats of violence in pursuit
of personal advantage.

"Having considered the evidence which was adduced in court we are sure
that these statements were untrue. We are also sure that the respondent
had no reasonable grounds for believing them to be true and did not
believe them to be true.

"We also found that (in) an earlier election address the respondent had
made a statement in fact, namely, that the petitioner had reneged on his
promise to live in the constituency. This too, although made in the
context of an election and said to arise from a statement made by the
petitioner as a candidate in that election, was in relation to his
personal character or conduct.

"It suggests that he is untrustworthy. The statement was false and the
respondent had no reasonable ground for believing it to be true and did
not believe it to be true.

"It follows in our judgment that the respondent is guilty of an illegal
practice, contrary to section 136 of the Representation of the People Act
1983 with regard to those statements."

The judge concluded: "The consequence of our finding that the respondent
is guilty of an illegal practice with regard to the statements we have
referred to is that, pursuant to section 159(1) of the Act, his election
as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Oldham East and
Saddleworth is void and we have so reported to the Speaker of the House of
Commons.

"We are satisfied that the statutory penalties for the illegal practices
committed by the respondent are both necessary and proportionate, having
regard to the seriousness of the statements made with regard to the
petitioner's alleged attitude to the Muslim extremists who advocated
violence."

The judges made no reference to the sanctions on Mr Woolas, although it is
thought he could be barred from public office for a period of time.

The court remains in session as the judges deliberate on costs and Mr
Woolas's plans to launch a judicial review of the decision.
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