UK Politics

Wait continues for judges' ruling on Phil Woolas case

Phil Woolas
Image caption Mr Woolas won the seat by just 103 votes in May

The judgement in former Labour MP Phil Woolas's appeal against being banned from politics is not expected this week, the High Court has said.

It means a by-election in his Oldham East and Saddleworth seat in unlikely to happen before Christmas.

Mr Woolas won the seat in May but the result was declared void by an election court over his conduct in the campaign.

Three High Court judges are considering his request for a judicial review of the ruling.

Lawyers for Mr Woolas argued during a two-day hearing last week that the election court's interpretation of the law was flawed. The judges also have to decide if they can hear a fast-track application for judicial review.

Previously the High Court had ruled Mr Woolas could not seek a judicial review - because the election court was a court of High Court judges sitting in their capacity as High Court judges. It said he could go to the Court of Appeal.

Mr Woolas's legal team have sought to argue that the election court is "inferior" to the High Court and that its decisions could be the subject of a judicial review.

Although Mr Woolas is officially no longer the MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, a by-election has not yet been called while legal proceedings continue.

Personal attack

If a by-election is to be held by 16 December, a writ must be moved before Thursday - which seems unlikely while the legal process continues.

The election court ruled on 5 November that Mr Woolas had made false statements in his campaign to hang on to his seat.

It heard that Mr Woolas stirred up racial tensions during a campaign which saw him win by just 103 votes over Lib Dem candidate Elwyn Watkins.

It found that, although made in the context of an election campaign, comments in campaign material suggesting Mr Watkins tried to "woo" the votes of Muslim extremists clearly amounted to an attack on his personal character and conduct.

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

If Mr Woolas's legal team are granted a judicial review, they want senior judges to rule that the election court misdirected itself in law, when it found that Mr Woolas had made attacks on his Lib Dem rival Elwyn Watkins' "personal character or conduct" with "no reasonable grounds for believing them to be true, and did not believe them to be true".

They argue that the statements were about the "political conduct" of his Lib Dem opponent - not his personal character - and suggest the election court's interpretation was inconsistent with free speech.

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