Phil Woolas will learn tomorrow whether he’s been successful in his legal attempt to overturn the decision to throw him out of parliament. Three judges will give their ruling at 12pm.
The former Saddleworth MP’s victory in May’s general election was declared void by an election court in Uppermill last month. The court agreed with his Liberal Democrat opponent, Elwyn Watkins, that leaflets sent out by Labour during the campaign had included lies about Mr Watkins’ character.
However, Mr Woolas quickly announced his intention to seek a judicial review. Three judges heard a day and a half of legal arguments at the High Court in central London a fortnight ago.
There are two elements to what they’ve been considering. First, they must work out whether they have the right to hear a judicial review at all. If they decide that they do, they’ll then tell us whether they agree with Mr Woolas that the judges at the Uppermill hearing were wrong. Both decisions are due to be delivered at the same time, because the legal process is being fast-tracked so we’re not left without an MP for too long.
Lawyers for Mr Woolas argued the original judges were wrong because the piece of election law in question has been left outdated by the modern European Convention on Human Rights, which enshrines the right to free speech. Lawyers for Mr Watkins submitted that the right to free speech doesn’t cover statements “where that freedom is abused… on the basis of falsehoods.”
If Mr Woolas loses, it’s not clear yet whether he’d be able to take the matter further, perhaps to the Court of Appeal or even the Supreme Court. If tomorrow turns out to be the end of the road for his legal battle, it would mean a by-election could be held in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency early in the new year.
The full background to the case from Saddleworth News is available here.