Election court to sit in Oldham over Phil Woolas result

Elwyn Watkins (left) and Phil Woolas
Image caption Elwyn Watkins (left) is challenging the result of the election in Oldham

An election court will sit in Oldham to judge whether former Labour minister Phil Woolas can continue as an MP.

Defeated Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins wants a re-run of May's Oldham East and Saddleworth contest, which Mr Woolas won by 103 votes.

Mr Watkins claims the result was swayed by Labour leaflets containing false claims about foreign donations and support from Muslim extremists.

A High Court judge has ruled the court should sit on 13 September.

Labour has said it will "robustly defend" the case, which has been brought under the rarely-used section 106 of the Representation of the People Act (1983).

Under the act, anyone involved in an election who "makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate's personal character or conduct" is guilty of an illegal practice - unless they can show "reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true".

Mr Watkins has said that two publications "contained numerous misleading and erroneous claims regarding my personal character and reputation, and that of my campaign".

Two High Court Judges will travel from London to the constituency to sit as the rarely-convened Election Court.

On Wednesday, Mr Justice Griffith Williams set the timetable for the court, which will sit in the Oldham constituency for five days.

The judge, sitting at London's High Court, said: "It seems to me that it must be resolved before Parliament reassembles."

The BBC's North West Political Editor Arif Ansari said that the last time such a court ordered the re-run of a Parliamentary election was in Winchester in 1997, due to a technicality.

He added that the last time there was a re-run due to corruption allegations was in 1911.

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