With the 2014 election declared void, Tower Hamlets is preparing for a rerun of the election on 11 June, with deputy mayor Oliur Rahman assuming responsibility until then.
The results of Lutfur Rahman’s re-election as mayor of the east London borough in 2014 was declared ‘void’ by Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey, who sat as a judge in the special High Court hearing.
At the special High Court hearing, Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey also ordered Mr Rahman to pay £250,000 in costs.
One of Mr Rahman’s aides Alibor Choudhury was also found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices.
Tower Hamlets First, the party which Mr Rahman represents, said the judgement was a “shock” and they were seeking further legal advice in relation to a judicial review.
Lutfur Rahman was elected in last year’s May by a margin of 3,000 votes participating from Tower Hamlets First Party.
Mr Mawrey – who sat as a judge – said the mayor had “driven a coach and horses through election law and didn’t care”.
He added that Mr Rahman, who had been elected for a second term in the borough, would be “incapable” of standing in the new election.
Mr Mawrey described Mr Rahman as “evasive and discursive witness whose evidence was untruthful on occasion”.
He also suggested Mr Rahman, who was born in Bangladesh, had played “race” and “religious” cards.
Mr Rahman ran a “ruthless and dishonest campaign to convince electorate his rival John Biggs was a racist”, Mr Mawrey said.
After the ruling, Labour politician Mr Biggs said: “Today’s ruling… is a victory for honest politics.
“By setting out to break the rules and going to extraordinary lengths to win last May’s mayoral election, Lutfur Rahman and his allies robbed the people of Tower Hamlets of the free and fair mayoral election they deserved and betrayed everyone in our community who trusted and voted for him.”
Decision made by Lutfur Rahman:
The decisions made by Lutfur Rahma will still stand, including those relating to the mayor’s education awards as well as key areas such as housing, education, the environment and health and wellbeing.
A spokesperson for the council said: “The provision of grants to third-sector groups also continues, under the management of government-appointed commissioners. All services delivered by the council to local residents, schools and businesses will also continue as usual.”
What will Lutfur Rahman do now?
The High Court ordered that Rahman be banned from office for five years, so his future prospects in politics look bleak. Electoral commissioner Richard Mawrey did not hold back in shaming a man whom he labelled an “evasive witness” who used the race card to intimidate and stifle dissent.
However, on 27 April a statement on Rahman’s website revealed he would be appealing the high court ruling, which, if successful, would overturn the ban. The website also launched a petition for his supporters to sign. It is not clear what Rahman plans to do in the next five years if the ban goes ahead, nor is he commenting on whether he plans to return to office after the five years have passed.
Rahman was a family solicitor before leaving for a career in politics. The court has referred his case to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) , which could mean he is also barred from practising law. An SRA spokesperson said: “We are awaiting the referral from the court to assess the information it has before deciding on the appropriate course of action.”
Meanwhile, the metropolitan police service is studying the 200-page report for evidence of criminality.
How will the ruling affect Tower Hamlets First (THF)?
The party did not come out well in the judge’s ruling. He said: “THF was the personal fiefdom of Mr Rahman. He directed its operations, he selected his candidates, and those candidates campaigned on the basis that their job, if elected, was to give personal support to him.”
Mawrey said he couldn’t ban other THF councillors from office as they were not named in the petition that started this case. Like the position of mayor, the councillor position for Stepney Green will remain vacant until 11 June.
Biggs welcomes election court exoneration over racist smears
John Biggs, Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets in the 2014 election, today said:
“This ruling is a victory for honest politics. By setting out to break the rules and going to extraordinary lengths to win last May’s Mayoral election, Lutfur Rahman and his allies, robbed the people of Tower Hamlets of the free and fair election they deserved and betrayed everyone in our community who trusted and voted for him.
“People from across our community have been badly let down by the Mayor. After five years of abuse of public funds and public trust, it’s time that residents have a council that is again on their side, that faith in free and fair elections is restored and divisions in our community are healed.
“I have spent thirty years standing up for the people of the East End of London and throughout my career I have challenged racism and intolerance wherever I have encountered it and that will not change.
“I am therefore relieved that serious but false allegations made against me have been dismissed by the Election Commissioner and I have been completely exonerated.
“These allegations were deliberately made, in order to polarise opinion and influence the result of last May’s Mayoral election in Tower Hamlets.
“The Mayoral election will now be rerun. It will be an opportunity for all the people of our borough to vote to reject once and for all, the kind of corrupt politics, that the petitioners, this Election Court, and the Commissioner’s judgement has exposed.
“For too long our borough has been dragged down by the unseemly conduct of Lutfur Rahman’s administration. Enough is enough, it’s time to get democracy and accountability back in Tower Hamlets.”
Cllr Rachael Saunders Leader of Tower Hamlets Labour Group:
“A judge has decided that the people of Tower Hamlets were denied a free and fair election in May 2014 and has ordered a new election.
“For as long as Lutfur Rahman has held power Tower Hamlets has been held back by division and patronage. The east end is home to people from the four corners of the globe, and we are proud of our vibrant campaigning traditions.
“That heritage has been damaged by Lutfur Rahman and this is a source of huge shame.
“Tower Hamlets Labour Group will do all we can to make this election an opportunity for the people of Tower Hamlets to move forward into a shared
Statement on election petition verdict from council:
On 23rd April, a council spokesperson said: “Today, the election commissioner, Judge Richard Mawrey, found in favour of the arguments presented by the petitioners in this case.
“Mr Mawrey also presented a judgement which cleared the council’s returning officer, John Williams, and council staff of all allegations related to fraudulent practice in the delivery and administration of the 2014 elections.
“We welcome recognition that the council’s strong electoral processes – which have been subject to further intense scrutiny during this petition hearing – are sound and Tower Hamlets Council will now take the steps necessary to hold an election for executive mayor of Tower Hamlets.”
Election petition result – council update
Following the election judgment on April 23, which found against Mr Lutfur Rahman and Mr Alibor Choudhury, Tower Hamlets Council has now published notices for the elections of an executive mayor and councillor for the Stepney Green ward.
A council spokesperson said: “These combined elections will be held on June 11 2015. They will be delivered by John Williams, the council’s acting returning officer, who was cleared of all allegations related to fraudulent practice in the delivery and administration of the 2014 Mayoral elections.”
In his judgment, Mr Mawrey said: “Mr Williams did a completely professional job in very difficult and trying circumstances. He is a man of considerable experience in elections – indeed may be considered an expert in the subject.”
The decisions made by the former mayor of Tower Hamlets during his term of office will all stand. This includes decisions relating to the Mayor’s education awards and key areas of work including housing, education, the environment and health and wellbeing.
Council statement regarding electoral processes
“Tower Hamlets has always had some of the toughest, anti-fraud processes in London, and we were pleased that the judge in the Election Court recognised the Returning Officer’s professionalism and entirely proper administration of the 2014 elections in his judgement.
“Nevertheless we are building on the excellent electoral processes that we already have in place. We have set up an enhanced joint training operation for the Returning Officer’s staff and police to ensure that any fraudulent activity at polling stations is immediately identified and dealt with; and strong partnership working between the council, Electoral Commission and police will ensure that any complaints during the elections are swiftly investigated and resolved.
” The council also developed a strong campaign to ensure that the borough’s electorate sign up to the Individual Electoral Register (IER), which is designed to ensure that voters are legitimate, and has carried out additional checks on late applications to register and all addresses with more than five persons registered to vote.”