'Pick up tabs for £1m legal bills for Lutfur Rahman's ban' Tower Hamlets mayor urges PM
PUBLISHED: 15:00 05 August 2018
Downing Street should up the tabs on the £1.1 million legal bills facing four petitioners who ousted Lutfur Rahman's corrupt town hall regime in the High Court, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets is demanding.
John Biggs has written for a second time to Theresa May calling for support for the petitioners.
Costs were awarded against Rahman, but he declared himself bankrupt in 2015 just months after the court case—while the petitioners have been left with legal bills from their own lawyers.
“I ask that you look into whether your office or the Department of Justice can support the petitioners,” the mayor’s letter to the PM seen by the Advertiser urges.
“They stood up for local democracy—we owe them a great debt of gratitude.
“They did the right thing—it’s now time for the government to do the right thing.”
Rahman was removed from office following the Election Court case by Andy Erlam, Debbie Simone, Azmal Hussain and Angela Moffatt. Their action resulted in the tainted 2014 polls which returned Rahman to office for a second term being declared void, marred by its vote rigging and postal ballot fraud.
"They stood up for local democracy and we owe them a great debt of gratitude. They did the right thing—it’s now time for the government to do the right thing"
But the Cabinet Office last month rejected Erlam’s plea for help with his legal costs, despite agreeing the judgment was “a landmark verdict” and helped address serious electoral corruption.
The government was “not a party to the 2015 legal case” and it would “not be appropriate to use taxpayers’ money”, a Cabinet Office statement said.
Yet the subsequent report into electoral fraud by former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles recommended election petitions and legal costs being reformed.
Erlam told the Advertiser this week: “The government response is pathetic. We would not have been forced to take this High Court action had the statutory authorities been doing their job. What do we pay our taxes for if they fail to act?”
Mayor Biggs first wrote to Downing Street in 2016 asking what could be done to assist the petitioners with their legal costs. “I am disappointed that since then this has not been resolved,” his letter of August 1 stresses. “This has now dragged on for more than three years—this is extremely unfair.”
The High Court is not required to collect costs from those it awards against—it’s up to the winning side to chase up, adding more legal costs.
All Rahman’s assets that Erlam and his co-petitioners could get their hands on was a little terraced cottage in Bromley-by-Bow now up for sale worth just £250,000 after mortgage and taxes are paid off.
Erlham, a 68-year-old documentary producer from Bow, took on the campaign “in the public interest with no financial or political advantage expected or received”.
But now he says that four ordinary citizens are expected to carry the financial burden of having got rid of a corrupt regime in local government.