A special election court convened under section 106 of the Representation of the People Act has ruled that former immigration minister Phil Woolas, the Labour MP for the constituency of Oldham East and Saddleworth, unreasonably made untrue statements about his Liberal Democrat opponent Elwyn Watkins during the 2010 general election campaign.
Speaking on behalf of the court, Mr Justice Teare said: “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.”
The Labour Party immediately suspended Mr Woolas following the ruling and Speaker of the House John Bercow will likely call a by-election in the constituency later today.
Mr Watkins described the judgement as a “historic victory” for democracy. Mr Woolas meanwhile announced that he intends to launch judicial review proceedings against the court’s decision.
Mr Woolas’s solicitor, Gerald Shamash, said: “In reaching this decision the court adopted an interpretation of conduct detailed in a case nearly 100 years ago when considering a 19th century statute.
“The court has decided that an election should be overturned and an MP should lose his seat and be incapable of being elected to the House of Commons for three years because statements which attacked a candidate’s ‘political conduct’ were also attacks on his ‘honour’ and ‘purity’.”
Mr Shamash warned the judgement could have a chilling effect on political debate. “Those who stand for election and participate in the democratic process must be prepared to have their political conduct and motives subjected to searching scrutiny and inquiry,” he said.
“They must accept that their political character and conduct will be attacked.
“It is vital to our democracy that those who make statements about the political character and conduct of election candidates are not deterred from speaking freely for fear that they may be found to have breached electoral laws.
“This decision will inevitably chill political speech.”
- Former minister Phil Woolas loses his seat (Independent)
- Phil Woolas immigration leaflets case: high court orders election rerun in Oldham East (Guardian)
- Phil Woolas immigration leaflets case: the full judgment (Guardian)
- Phil Woolas ‘dirty tricks’ election court verdict (The Solicitor)
- Representation of the People Act 1983 (Legislation.gov)
- Free speech (Findlaw.co.uk)
- Legal news (The Solicitor)
- Legal Q&A (Community)
- Find a solicitor (Contact Law)
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