Woolas trial report: day four

This report is from the Lib Dem Voice court reporter. You may also like to read Nick Thornsby’s account of the trial

Helen Mountfield QC today led the special election petition court through the substance of the arguments, case law and disputed facts of the case. Representation of the People Act 1983 section 106 was a specific time limited right of prosecution in relations to the conduct of a particular election. Both Helen Mountfield and Gavin Millar used many of the same pieces of case law and legislation. Amongst these was the Human Rights Act which applies to all cases.

Under the Representation of the People Act 1983 the burden of proof is set to the criminal standard although the trial has elements of civil law as well. The sanctions are that Woolas and his Election Agent could be disbarred from holding political office for 3 years. Woolas would not even be able to have his name down on the electoral register.

One case was the North Louth judgment. In that election court Lord Madden held in 1911 that a Mr. Healy had been traduced in a letter stating by one of his election opponents by saying “Rumour has it that he is a cat fed on British gold as postmaster general”. The judge pointed out in his ruled in this case that to allege that a man shot foxes in a rural area would imply that he was not a gentleman that hunted with hounds and this could be taken as defamatory.

Mr. Millar came up with various legal arguments but in principle he was trying put the case that a reasonable person would keep a record of what was being said in the local press over a number of years. Sections of the disputed leaflets to be taken in isolation in one case but in the whole central spread of the newspaper were to be taken.

In consequence of this Mr. Millar also had difficulty in persuading their lordships that Wooing Extremists and other pejorative terms like accepting illegal foreign donations had the constrained meaning placed on them by Mr Woolas’ counsel. Their Lordship Mr Justice Griffiths and Mr Justice Teale tried to their utmost to make sense of these arguments. It would appear that this was not that successful.

Mr Millar argued that Ken Livingstone had associated with the IRA, so it was argued that Mr Watkins could quite legitimately to have associated with Muslim Extremists. The counsel then made a number of arguments that appeared to be contradictory to evidence that has already been received – in particular that questions were put to Mr Clegg on BBC Newsnight about the funding of the Watkins election expenses.

It was fair to say that Mr Gavin Millar struggled valiantly to make an extremely bad case, as well as he did within the limitation of the material he had to work with. It does seem to me that Mr Philip Woolas will be dreading the verdict of this trial which is due to be given sometime in mid October once again in the Civic Hall Uppermill. An historic ruling may very well be on the cards and one that shall upset the normal way politics is practiced in this country.

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14 Comments

  • I understand that the standard of proof is demanding and the judges will have a natural disinclination to overturn an election result unless absolutely necessary. This is rightly so.

    But I’m genuinely confused about what evidence Woolas and Fitzpatrick put forward to prove their beliefs were justified.

    As far as I am aware, Fitzpatrick and Woolas just (I’m paraphrasing, but only very slightly) knew that “the Liberals” were corrupt because they were always corrupt across the country and the LibDem manual teaches corruption. And they knew the LibDems supported terrorist activity in Oldham because it was party policy to do so.

    I understand that I sound like I’m being glib. I apologise for that. But that is my genuine understanding of what Fitzpatrick said in the witness stand. And I understand that Woolas just blamed Fitzpatrick for everything, as “you can’t design leaflets by committee”.

    The thrust of the rest of the political argument seems to be whether it was comment or statement of fact. And curtailing Woolas’ right to political freedom of expression.

    I would welcome some input here!

  • Kevin Peters 17th Sep '10 - 1:17am

    On the question of Your Lordship or Your Honour I’ll bow to more learned knowledge than my own. What I would say is that for much of the second day Phil was calling them their worships, so we had a couple of mayors in charge of the case.

    Thank you for the feed back.

  • Foregone Conclusion 17th Sep '10 - 11:30am

    “One case was the North Louth judgment. In that election court Lord Madden held in 1911 that a Mr. Healy had been traduced in a letter stating by one of his election opponents by saying “Rumour has it that he is a cat fed on British gold as postmaster general”. The judge pointed out in his ruled in this case that to allege that a man shot foxes in a rural area would imply that he was not a gentleman that hunted with hounds and this could be taken as defamatory.”

    It really was a different world, wasn’t it?

  • Niklas
    Two points – 1) Even if Labour believed that LD deliverers were paid £3 an hour, and given that their leaflet cost was given as 5p each, you would have to assume only 8 or 9 an hour were being delivered, unless you proposed that they were being carried around vast distances in expense paid vans. That does fail the “reasonableness test”.

    2) What does NOT fail the reasonableness test (for politicians, or lawyers, for that matter), is the assumption that supporters of rival political parties lie on a regular basis. This is a position taken, anecdotally on my experience, by at least 70% or more of activists of all parties, and it justifies and underpins much of the stupidity which characterises our failure to address problems and to engage with approaches other than our own. “Oh, he’s a Tory, anyway, so don’t take any notice of what he says” (!)

    Many lawyers take part in politics, don’t forget, and they are in an adversarial game themselves, so don’t be too sure of that particular assumption, Niklas!

  • Thinking about it for a moment, it is a position you encounter on many doorsteps, and throughout the pages, certainly of the tabloid press, “that politicians routinely lie”.

  • Good job this isn’t a jury trial, or this website would be massively in contempt of court!!

    Whatever my personal opinions, I don’t think it’s for the author or the commenters to discuss the merits of the evidence or effectively tell the judges what the verdict should be.

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