The election of the mayor for London Borough of Tower Hamlets must be re-run, a High Court judge has ruled after finding the incumbent, Lutfur Rahman, guilty of corrupt and illegal practices.
Judge Richard Mawrey QC, sitting as an Election Commissioner, found Alibor Chaudhury, an aide to Rahman, also guilty of a corrupt practice.
Four residents of the borough brought the challenge under tthe Representation of the People Act 1983, making a number of allegations over the conduct of the election. Rahman denied all the allegations.
Allegations against the returning officer of Tower Hamlets were withdrawn ahead of the Election Court hearing the case in February this year.
The judge said in his 200-page ruling that Rahman had not been a creditable witness and that he had “driven a coach and horses” through election law.
Tower Hamlets First, Rahman’s party, said the judgment had come as a shock.
“The Mayor strongly denies any wrongdoing and had full confidence in the justice system, and so this result has been surprising to say the least,” it said in a statement.
Tower Hamlets First added that it was seeking further legal advice on the matter.
Judge Mawrey declared the 22 May 2014 election avoided by the corrupt and illegal practices and on the ground of general corruption.
The judge also said that:
- The corrupt and illegal practices "so extensively prevailed that they may reasonably be supposed to have affected the result of such election";
- Rahman shall be incapable of being elected to fill the vacancy;
- A copy of the judgment should be sent to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, as Rahman is a solicitor;
- The effect of his ruling was such that Rahman's election was void, "that is to say, it is as if it had never taken place. He has not lawfully been Mayor since that date [22 May 2014]";
- Choudhury must immediately vacate the office of councillor;
- The returning officer should arrange for a new Mayoral election and for a by-election in the Ward of Stepney.
The judge is reported to have also ordered Rahman to pay £250,000 in costs.
Judge Mawrey said in an afterword: “The evidence laid before this court, limited though it necessarily was to the issues raised in the Petition, has disclosed an alarming state of affairs in Tower Hamlets. This is not the consequence of the racial and religious mix of the population, nor is it linked to any ascertainable pattern of social or other deprivation. It is the result of the ruthless ambition of one man.
“The real losers in this case are the citizens of Tower Hamlets and, in particular, the Bangladeshi community. Their natural and laudable sense of solidarity has been cynically perverted into a sense of isolation and victimhood, and their devotion to their religion has been manipulated – all for the aggrandisement of Mr Rahman.”
The judge said the result had been to alienate them from the other communities in the Borough and to create resentment in those other communities.
“Mr Rahman and Mr Choudhury….. spent a great deal of time accusing their opponents, especially Mr Biggs [the Labour candidate for mayor], of ‘dividing the community’ but, if anyone was ‘dividing the community’, it was they,” he continued.
“The Bangladeshi community might have thought itself fortunate to have been the recipient of the Mayor’s lavish spending but in the end the benefits were small and temporary and the ill effects long-lasting. It was fool’s gold.”
Judge Mawrey QC said that on past form, it appeared inevitable that Rahman would denounce the judgment “as yet another example of the racism and Islamophobia that have hounded him throughout his political life”.
It was nothing of the sort, the judge said. “Mr Rahman has made a successful career by ignoring or flouting the law (as this Petition demonstrates) and has relied on silencing his critics by accusations of racism and Islamophobia. But his critics have not been silenced and neither has this court.
“Events of recent months in contexts very different from electoral malpractice have starkly demonstrated what happens when those in authority are afraid to confront wrongdoing for fear of allegations of racism and Islamophobia. Even in the multicultural society which is 21st century Britain, the law must be applied fairly and equally to everyone. Otherwise we are lost.”
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, said the court’s ruling vindicated his decision to intervene in Tower Hamlets.
Last December the minister appointed a team of commissioners to oversee the running of the council, as part of a package of measures.
Commenting on today’s High Court ruling, Pickles said: “The immediate priority of the Commissioners must be to ensure a free and fair election takes place on 7 May.
“I will now ask the Commissioners whether further resources or powers are necessary to help them stamp out this culture of corruption in Tower Hamlets.”
The Secretary of State said the Commissioners’ powers might need to be extended in the interim before any by-election.
Judge Mawrey’s formal conclusions
"The court is satisfied and certifies that in the election for the Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets held on 22 May 2014:
a) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was guilty by his agents of corrupt practices contrary to:
i) s 60 of the 1983 Act;
ii) s 62A of the 1983 Act;
b) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was guilty by his agents of illegal practices contrary to:
i) s 13D(1) of the 1983 Act;
ii) s 61(1)(a) of the 1983 Act;
c) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was personally guilty and guilty by his agents of an illegal practice contrary to s 106 of the 1983 Act;
d) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was guilty by his agents of an illegal practice contrary to s 111 of the 1983 Act;
e) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was personally guilty and guilty by his agents of a corrupt practice contrary to s 113 of the 1983 Act;
f) the First Respondent Mr Rahman was personally guilty and guilty by his agents of a corrupt practice contrary to s 115 of the 1983 Act.
The court is also satisfied to the relevant standard of proof and certifies that in the election for the Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets held on 22 May 2014:
a) there were corrupt and illegal practices for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of the Respondent Mr Rahman at that election and
b) those corrupt or illegal practices so extensively prevailed that they may reasonably be supposed to have affected the result of such election.
The court therefore declares the election of Mr Rahman as Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to have been avoided by such corrupt or illegal practices pursuant to s 159(1) of the 1983 Act and also to have been avoided on the ground of general corruption pursuant to s 164(1)(a) of the 1983 Act.
It is declared that Mr Rahman shall be incapable of being elected to fill the vacancy for the office of Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets under s 164(1)(b) of the 1983 Act.
Mr Rahman is a solicitor of the Senior Courts and the court is obliged by s 162 of the 1983 Act to bring this judgment to the attention of his professional body, the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority. It is ordered that a copy of the judgment be sent to the SRA.
The court will also report and certify that Mr Alibor Choudhury was guilty of a corrupt practice contrary to s 113 of the 1983 Act and illegal practices contrary to ss 106 and 111 of the 1983 Act.
As the court is required to consider the matter under s 145(3) of the 1983 Act, the court finds that corrupt practices extensively prevailed at the election both of the Mayor and of the Councillors for the twenty wards of Tower Hamlets held on 22 May 2014.
These conclusions will be embodied in the certificate of the court and will be the subject of the court’s report to the High Court under sections 145, 158 and 160 of the 1983 Act.
Their effect is firstly that Mr Rahman’s election as Mayor on 22 May 2014 was void, that is to say, it is as if it had never taken place. He has not lawfully been Mayor since that date. Secondly, as has been said, Mr Choudhury must immediately vacate the office of Councillor. Thirdly it will be Mr Williams’s task to arrange for a new Mayoral election and for a by-election in the Ward of Stepney.