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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 March, 2005, 14:14 GMT
Voting fraud proceedings dropped
Allegations of electoral fraud against 17 Labour Party members in Birmingham have been dropped.

They were invited to appear before an electoral court involving six other Labour councillors accused of abusing postal votes in the 2004 poll.

The 17 party members were called on Tuesday to answer allegations of corrupt and illegal election practices.

Deputy High Court Judge Richard Mawrey QC said he could not be sure their right to a defence could be satisfied.

The point has been made that the defendants, if I may so term them, do not have the rights and opportunities they would have in criminal proceedings
Judge Richard Mawrey QC

The allegations against the 17 were included in one of two petitions lodged against three Labour councillors - Muhammad Afzal, Mohammed Islam and Mohammed Kazi - from the Aston Ward accused of abusing postal votes in the 2004 poll.

The judge has already heard the case against the other three Labour councillors - Shafaq Ahmed, Shah Jahan, and Ayaz Khan - who represented the Bordesley Green Ward.

But on Tuesday referring to the 17 party members, Mr Mawrey admitted to being in "uncharted waters" saying he could not be sure an individual's right to defend himself could be satisfied under the terms of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

He said he had sufficient doubts about the rights it afforded defendants served notice under Section 160 of the Act to discontinue proceedings against them.

"What has become increasingly apparent... is that the procedures contemplated by S160 are very unsatisfactory," he told the court.

'Disenfranchise individuals'

The judge said he was loathe to "disenfranchise individuals" if he felt the system was unfair.

He said among the defendants were a solicitor and a police officer and he expressed concern about the impact such a development would have on their careers.

Mr Mawrey added: "If there were a quick satisfactory procedure for dealing with these matters and they could be dealt with all the rights available to a criminal defendant I would have no hesitation carrying through an investigation into the actions of these defendants.

"I am quite satisfied, if I find the allegations in the two petitions proved, my powers are sufficient not only to void the elections but to make it clear in my report to the High Court, if I come to that conclusion, to permit me to say there had been general corruption in considerable swathes of the Birmingham area."

The hearing will continue on Tuesday.




SEE ALSO:
Vote fraud trial calls activists
14 Mar 05 |  West Midlands
Labour trio's 'vote-rig factory'
02 Mar 05 |  West Midlands
Ballots 'appeared from nowhere'
28 Feb 05 |  West Midlands
Election Court hears fraud claims
21 Feb 05 |  West Midlands


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