Citizens of Tower Hamlets have right to know if Mayor Rahman was properly elected, judge rules
PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 September 2014 | UPDATED: 15:59 09 September 2014
Embattled Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman is fighting a war on two fronts in the High Court over allegations of election fraud after a BBC Panorama programme and attempts to stop an audit of town hall accounts.
‘Eric Pickles pushed through audit’
Mayor Lutfur Rahman claimed Eric Pickles “forced through the audit decision just a day after new legislation making the Council pick up the bill”.
He went to the High Court to challenge “taxpayers’ money being spent on a politically-motivated campaign” triggered by a much-criticised BBC Panorama documentary”.
He also criticised the cost of the petition challenging his own election in May.
A spokesman for the mayor said: “The costs are met from his private budget, which is why the petitioners would have to pay his costs should they lose. The Mayor is confident the court will uphold the election as free and fair.”
A top judge thwarted his bid to stop a petition claiming election fraud in May going to trial, when he ruled “the citizens of Tower Hamlets have the right to know whether the Mayor was properly elected or not”.
Trade union activist Andrew Erlam, an election candidate who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, had petitioned the court under the 1983 Representation of the People’s Act, directly naming Mayor Rahman and the council’s election Returning Officer John Williams.
Judicial Commissioner Richard Mawrey, QC, ruled that it was not necessary to hold the oral hearing sought by the mayor who was challenging the petition.
“I do not intend to allow this petition to become bogged down in endless procedural wrangling between the parties,” Commissioner Mawrey said.
“The citizens of Tower Hamlets have the right to know whether the Mayor was properly elected or not.
“If he was, he has the right for this to be made clear — if he was not, the sooner the matter is rectified the better.”
Serious allegations of malpractice were made against the Returning Officer concerning “a schedule of ‘ghost’ voters which, whether true or false, reflect on the impartiality of his staff”.
But the judge was not ordering an election recount, since May’s polling had long passed.
“It is better to concentrate on the serious allegations of electoral malpractice raised by the petition,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, another High Court judge has rejected the mayor’s bid to halt a major audit of the council’s public spending which had been ordered by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
Tower Hamlets Tory Opposition leader Peter Golds said the two High Court rejections were “an extraordinary indictment of the management of the council”.
Cllr Golds told the East London Advertiser: “Twice in four days Rahman has been severely criticised by different High Court judges.
“This is yet another example of Rahman treating the taxpayer as a personal piggy bank for his own ego.”
The Town Hall had sought a judicial review in July to challenge the motive for the audit following allegations of “fraud and financial mismanagement”.
But Judge Kenneth Parker threw out the Mayor’s application on Friday as “hopeless”.
The judge said: “Where concerns have been raised that a local authority is poorly governed, poorly managed financially and may even have engaged in fraud, there must be concerns as to whether such an authority has exercised its functions as economically, efficiently and effectively as could properly have been expected. The contrary is simply not arguable.
“The defendant (Mr Pickles) was plainly entitled to exercise his common law power to ask an expert body (accountants Pricewaterhouse-Coopers) to assist him by providing advice on any aspect of public affairs that was of potential concern to him.”
Legislation which makes the local authority pick up the tabs for a Government-ordered audit came into effect on April 3, a day before Mr Pickles sent in the auditors.
The judge said: “The council allowed the inspector to carry out an investigation for a substantial period, at public expense, before launching its belated challenge and asking months later for the decision to be quashed.”
The council is now seeking an oral hearing, it confirmed on Friday, in which its QC Jonathan Swift would challenge the motive for the audit, aiming to stop a full judicial review going ahead. The audit is thought to be costing £1 million — so far.