Woolas makes fresh effort to overturn ban from politics

Phil Woolas Mr Woolas narrowly won his Oldham East and Saddleworth seat in the general election

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Ex-immigration minister Phil Woolas is to make a fresh bid to overturn a court ruling that banned him from politics.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said Mr Woolas was making a second bid for a judicial review of the verdict stripping him of his Commons seat.

The High Court had earlier rejected his initial request for a judicial review of the election court's ruling.

A decision on whether a by-election will be called will not now be taken until legal proceedings have concluded.

'Void result'

The election court was told Mr Woolas stirred up racial tensions during a campaign which saw him retain his Oldham East and Saddleworth seat by 103 from Lib Dem candidate Elwyn Watkins.

It ruled he was guilty of breaching the Representation of the People Act 1983 and barred him from standing for elected office for three years.

In his first comment on the verdict, Mr Bercow told MPs that the court had ruled the election result "void" and found Mr Woolas "personally guilty" of an "illegal practice" during the campaign.

He noted that Mr Woolas had renewed his attempt to get a judicial review of the verdict and said that this hearing would be "expedited" as the judge wanted constituents to "know who is their MP as soon as possible".

The Speaker had ruled there would be no debate on the issue pending the outcome of legal proceedings.

It means a by-election will be delayed to avoid the possibility that, if Mr Woolas went on to overturn the ban, it could result in the embarrassing situation of the constituency having two MPs.

Routes of appeal

Mr Woolas's application for a judicial review of the ruling was rejected on Monday at the High Court. Judge Mr Justice Silber said it was "not amenable to judicial review because it is a decision of High Court judges sitting in their capacity as High Court judges".

Analysis

The election court in the village of Uppermill near Oldham was as bizarre as it was rare.

The first case of its kind in nearly a century saw a man who months before was immigration minister sitting in a civic hall in his constituency being held to account by a barrister.

It was clear the battle for the marginal seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth had been pretty grubby.

It emerged - to laughter in court - that Phil Woolas' all or nothing election strategy was described by his team, rather colourfully, as "shit or bust".

The judges appeared shocked at what had gone on.

But just how many other closely fought election battles would stand up to such scrutiny in the courts? The implications of this case for election campaigning could be wide-ranging.

He said it was "settled law" that the decisions of High Court judges sitting in their capacity as High Court judges "cannot be subject of applications for judicial review".

But he said Mr Woolas could apply to the Court of Appeal.

However a source close to Phil Woolas' legal team told the BBC his lawyers would renew their application for a judicial review and were seeking an oral hearing in front of a High Court judge in which to argue a review should take place.

The BBC's North West Political Editor Arif Ansari said that Mr Woolas would have to fund any appeal out of his own pocket after he was suspended by the Labour Party following Friday's judgement.

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has suggested that even if he won an appeal he would not have a future in the party.

"Whatever happens in an appeal... it won't change the facts that were found by the election court, which was that he said things that were untrue knowing it. It is not part of Labour's politics for somebody to be telling lies to get themselves elected," she said on Sunday.

'Dangerous precedent'

Labour MP Graham Stringer told BBC Radio Manchester that the decision to order a re-run of the constituency's election set a "dangerous precedent".

He said that there were many "grey areas" and during the heat of election campaigns it was easy "to go over the top".

He added that Mr Woolas had done one of the most difficult jobs, as immigration minister, during the Labour government and he would have preferred a more "rounded statement" from Labour rather than just "hanging him out to dry".

The case against Mr Woolas was brought under Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act.

This makes it an offence to publish "any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate's personal character or conduct" to prevent them being elected - unless they believed it was true and had "reasonable grounds" to do so.

Mr Woolas served as immigration minister for nearly two years after becoming an MP in 1997.

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