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Court hearing 'inevitable' in Oldham East and Saddleworth election challenge

Arif Ansari | 08:57 UK time, Thursday, 1 July 2010

Elwyn Watkins

So now we know for sure that the general election is not over in Oldham East and Saddleworth.

As readers of my previous post will know, the Liberal Democrat candidate, Elwyn Watkins, is challenging the outcome in the courts.

The Lib Dems failed to take the seat from Labour by just 103 votes.

Mr Watkins blames Labour for putting out a small newspaper which he considers libellous.

Under the 1983 Representation of the People Act, anyone involved in an election campaign who "makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate's personal character or conduct" has committed an offence.

Phil Woolas

Labour sources were initially suggesting that a court hearing was unlikely. The party now accepts it is inevitable.

This is pretty extraordinary stuff. The last time an election result was challenged on the basis of corrupt practices was back in 1911. It was successful.

Everyone is feeling their way through these rarely-charted political waters. High Court judges must now decide how to proceed.

As many as four High Court judges, sitting as an Election Court, could come to the constituency to take evidence. This is likely to be in September at the earliest.

Elwyn Watkins must prove the allegations were made and that they were false.

Phil Woolas, in turn, must either prove the allegations were correct, or that he had reasonable grounds for believing them.

Both sides are keeping their arguments to themselves for now, but playing for high stakes.

If Mr Woolas loses, which still seems unlikely, then he would be guilty of a criminal offence and would be banned from standing for office.

If Elwyn Watkins wins he has another chance of being elected. But more significantly he would have changed the way future political campaigns are run.


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