A LABOUR candidate is a step closer to having a controversial election result overturned after winning a High Court battle.
Mohammad Ali has filed a civil case against Liberal Democrat Mohammed Bashir after losing the Maybury and Sheerwater local council election by just 16 votes.
Mr Ali is alleging that election fraud took place and is petitioning to have the May 3 result declared null and void. He is seeking a new election for the ward.
Rather than defend the fraud allegations, Mr Bashir – represented by Mr Philip Goldenberg – and Lib-Dem supporters, applied to have the petition struck out.This is just the first stage. Next is for the court to appoint a commissioner and conduct scrutiny of votes
Counsel for Mr Ali, Mr Gavin Millar QC, argued that as a matter of great public interest, the petition should proceed.
Woking Borough Council representatives – Timothy Straker QC, head of legal services Peter Bryant, and electoral manager Charlotte Griffiths – did not oppose scrutiny of the votes.
Mrs Justice Slade and Mr Justice Nichol presiding at the High Court at the Royal Courts of Justice on Strand in London endorsed this and dismissed the Lib-Dem application.
Former Lib Dem councillor Mr Goldenberg said: “The advice of a senior barrister specialising in election law said the Labour Party’s petition was seriously defective. In particular, it gave no valid reason why the election
result should be overturned.”
But Mr Bashir was ordered to meet the costs of both Mr Ali and Woking Borough Council (which could be £20,000 to £25,000).
After the appeal was dismissed Mr Bashir said: “Of course I am disappointed by the result.”
But Labour agent Liz Evans said: “The result was better than we could have hoped. It came good.”
Victory at the court last Friday means the Lib-Dem party are likely to foot the bill.
Party leader at the council Denzil Coulson said: “We respect the High Court decision. We are committed to conducting free and fair elections and if the court should find any Lib-Dem member, or persons acting on behalf of the party, guilty of any wrongdoing, the Liberal Democrats will act swiftly against them.”
Mr Bryant said: “Following the decision, an election commissioner will be appointed to consider the petition.”
The level of scrutiny will need be decided – and whether it will be in the council offices or at the High Court in London – but the costs could total £500,000.
Mr Bashir, who will now have to act on his own behalf and will be applying for Legal Aid, said: “I don’t want the taxpayers to have to pay. It is a waste of money.”
Mr Ali said: “This is just the first stage. Next is for the court to appoint a commissioner and conduct scrutiny of votes.
“This shows the court does see merit in our case.”
The High Court hearing is likely to go ahead in early September.