Election on trial: Mayor ‘was told answering council questions would breach human rights’
PUBLISHED: 16:28 20 February 2015 | UPDATED: 17:10 20 February 2015
Mayor Lutfur Rahman was advised by a lawyer that his human rights might be breached if he answered questions about his “responsibilities”, a special High Court hearing has been told.
He said the chief legal officer of Tower Hamlets Council had given him the advice after he was pressured to answer questions at council meetings.
Mr Rahman, who was a solicitor who specialised in family cases, told an Election Court trial in London he had not sought the advice but wanted to follow “correct procedure”.
Four voters have taken legal action against Mr Rahman. They want Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey – who is sitting as a judge at the trial – to declare the result of the May 2014 mayoral election, which saw Mr Rahman elected for a second term, void and order a re-run.
Mr Rahman denies wrongdoing. The trial started earlier this month and is expected to end in March.
Barrister Francis Hoar, who is representing the four voters, raised the issue.
He said: “You had advice from the chief lawyer in the borough that you answering questions about your responsibilities as mayor would breach your human rights.”
And Mr Mawrey suggested that such advice was “slightly surprising”.
Mr Rahman told the judge: “It is not advice I sought as such.”
He said his administration had a model in which cabinet members with responsibilities for particular areas fielded questions at council meetings.
“There was this advice from the monitoring officer,” he said. “For me and my administration, we wanted to follow correct procedure.”
Mr Hoar asked Mr Rahman which article of the European Convention on Human Rights – which covers such areas as the rights to liberty, fair trials, family life and expression – might have been at risk.
“I am not an expert human rights lawyer,” said Mr Rahman. “I cannot give you an answer. I don’t know.”
The four voters have mounted a challenge under the provisions the Representation Of The People Act.
Lawyers for the group have made a series of allegations, including “personation” in postal voting and at polling stations, and ballot paper tampering.
Mr Rahman says there is “little, if any” evidence of wrongdoing against him.
His lawyers have described the group of four’s claims as invention, exaggeration and “in some cases downright deliberately false allegations”.
Mr Rahman told Mr Mawrey: “I have a lot of respect for checks and balances. I have a lot of respect for scrutiny.
“I make myself available for scrutiny to members of the public and to my fellow members in the council.
“Of course, people have a right to scrutinise, to challenge, to criticise.”
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