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HIGH COURT RULES AGAINST LIB DEMS OVER NOMINATION PAPERS

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Sixty Liberal Democrat candidates whose nomination papers were not filled in properly won't be allowed to stand in ...
Sixty Liberal Democrat candidates whose nomination papers were not filled in properly won't be allowed to stand in a Harrow local election after a high court ruling.

The group - who are all official members of the Liberal Democrat Party - fell foul of rules designed to keep out 'maverick' candidates who attempt to confuse voters.

But judge Mr Justice Scott Baker said the party only had itself to blame by running so close to a deadline for candidate nominations.

'The Liberal Democrats have brought the current regrettable state of affairs on themselves,' he said.

The judge told the court how problems began on the day nominations were due for a May 4 local election involving the currently Labour-controlled Harrow LBC.

Liberal Democrat election agent John Budden - who was also planning to stand as a candidate - delivered the party's nominations just hours before a 12pm deadline on April 5, last week.

Among the documents given to staff of the returning officer for the election, Alfred Balabanoff, was a certificate that was meant to give permission for the candidates to stand as members of the 'Liberal Democrat Focus Group'.

The name, the judge said, derived from a Liberal Democrat newsletter, but in order to be valid required a signed certificate from a senior party member under a 1996 amendment to the Local Elections Rules, designed to stop 'maverick' candidates standing under party titles that would confuse voters.

The certificate was signed on behalf of registered nominating officer of the Liberal Democrats, Lord Christopher Rennard, by Harrow Liberal Democrat treasurer Maureen De Beer.

But it only authorised the description 'Liberal Democrats' and the words 'Focus Team' were added by Mr Budden when this was pointed out by Mr Balabanoff's staff.

Mr Budden said in a sworn witness statement that Mr Balabanoff's deputy, Peter Kelly, indicated this would not be a problem.

But, said Mr Justice Scott Baker, Mr Balabanoff refused to accept the candidates because the words 'Focus Team' were not added by Ms De Beer, and were written after she had signed the certificate.

It was that decision the candidates challenged yesterday.

However the judge said it was his 'clear conclusion' that Mr Balabanoff had not acted 'unlawfully' or 'unreasonably', and the Liberal Democrats were the 'authors of their own misfortune'.

Earlier Thomas Linden, for the candidates, had told the judge that if Mr Balabanoff's decision was upheld then thousands of Liberal Democrat voters would become 'disenfranchised'.

'It is also likely to have an impact on the overall control of the council, which has had administrations from each of the three main political parties in the last 10 years, since one of those parties will be all but excluded from representation on the council altogether,' he added.

Outside court John Skipworth, a former councillor and spokesman for the Harrow Liberal Democrats, said he was resigned to the fact that his party would now only be represented by three candidates.

'We regret that a rule which was designed to prevent the impersonation of parties has been found to remove the legitimate chance of candidates standing as a result of two missing words,' he said.

'My heart goes out to those councillors who have served for many years and are now denied a further opportunity to be elected.'

The 60 candidates who will now be disqualified from standing in the election include Christopher David Noyce, the current leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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