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LOCAL ELECTION POLL TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED IN NOMINATION FORM RULING

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Three Respect candidates prevented from standing in the May local elections have successfully challenged the ruling...
Three Respect candidates prevented from standing in the May local elections have successfully challenged the ruling at the High Court - and had the poll temporarily suspended.

The election for the St Katherine's and Wapping ward in Tower Hamlets, London, will now take place at a later date after Mr Justice Keith ruled Sultana Begum, Foyyoz Ali and Mohammed Hassan had been unfairly treated by the returning officer for the area.

The trio of would-be-local-councillors were told on April 3 that their nomination forms, handed in on March 29 or March 30, were invalid because they had been wrongly filled out - and they could not stand.

Barrister Hugh Southey, for the candidates, said electoral roll numbers on the form were out by a digit or two because Tower Hamlets reissued it in March, rather than adopting the one drawn up in December 2005.

Mr Southey added that under the Local Elections Rules 1986 the returning officer had a duty to check forms if they were presented in good time and point out any mistakes.

He also said the three had a 'legitimate expectation' they would be treated in the same way as other candidates, but while other forms had been checked before the April deadline, their's had not.

Today Mr Justice Keith said the treatment of the three was 'sufficiently unfair' to amount to an 'abuse of power' by returning officer Patricia Parker.

'They had every reason to believe if they delivered their nomination papers in good time, which on any view of the facts they did, any error they would be pointed out to them in time for them to be rectified,' said the judge.

'The non examination of the papers and the returning officer's failure to do that amounted to unfair treatment.'

Timothy Straker QC, for the returning officer, had argued the checking process was an 'informal' one that could not be held up to legal scrutiny, and also said whatever the outcome of the judicial review challenge the election should go ahead.

Mr Straker added that the three candidates could then challenge the validity of the election afterwards as the date for it going ahead - May 4 - was set in stone by statute.

But Mr Justice Keith concluded that it would be better to postpone the election temporarily to allow Ms Begum, Mr Ali and Mr Hassan to resubmit their papers.

No date was set for the fresh election, but it is likely to be held within weeks, rather than months.

Respect is hoping to win seats in Tower Hamlets following the success of George Galloway in the 2005 general election.

He beat sitting Labour MP Oona King to take the Bethnal Green and Bow seat, winning support from the large Asian population in the area.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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