Election petition thrown out and petitioner ordered to pay costs
Commissioner Price OBE QC, who heard the election petition brought by Mr Vernon Williams, has delivered his judgement and ordered the petitioner to pay costs.
Commissioner Price, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice, dismissed all of Mr Williams’ claims, following a hearing last month at Stoke Newington Town Hall. The reasons for his decision were delivered this week.
Mr Williams unsuccessfully stood as an independent candidate in Kings Park ward, in the 2014 local election. He lost out to councillors Sharon Patrick, Tom Rahilly and Rebecca Rennison, who received over 2,000 votes each. Mr Williams gained 134.
Mr Williams launched an election petition against the three elected members and the Returning Officer, Tim Shields, in the High Court. He raised a number of issues which were all dismissed by the Commissioner, who declared Mr Williams’ actions in bringing these proceedings to be ‘frivolous and vexatious’. The Commissioner ordered Mr Williams to pay the councillors’ and Mr Shields’ legal costs, including the cost of the hearing at Stoke Newington Town Hall, estimated to be over £67,000 in total.
Mr Shields said: “We have always maintained that this election was run to the highest standards and strenuously denied the allegations made by the petitioner.”
NOTES TO EDITOR
The judgement in full is as follows:
- The Parliamentary rules that requires election count to take place within 4 hours of close of poll does not apply to local government elections. Therefore the Returning Officer (RO) could not have breached rule 45(3A) of the Parliamentary Rules.
- Factual evidence presented by the RO – The Commissioner found the evidence of fact from Tim Shields the RO, and three of his staff, presented and unchallenged by Mr Williams, to be entirely credible and reliable and he accepted it.
- He also accepted the evidence of Sharon Patrick on behalf of the first respondents that the postponement of the election count to the day following polling day is not uncommon.
- Overnight storage of ballot boxes – The allegation by Mr Williams cannot be sustained. The evidence from the RO showed careful planning of the security arrangements for polling day and the count. This included detailed briefing meetings with the representatives of the security company, CIS, who were to provide the security arrangements. There is no evidence from which it can reasonably be inferred that any interference with the ballot boxes or tampering with the ballot papers took place or may have taken place. In fact the evidence clearly indicates that did not happen. I reject the petitioner’s allegations in this regard I find that the RO was not guilty of any act, omission or breach of duty in relation to the use of the count centre to store ballot boxes and papers overnight.
- Failing to provide information and materials – There is no evidence to support this allegation. The evidence from one of the Deputy ROs is clear that the petitioner was in fact supplied with the necessary information and materials on more than one occasion. There is no substance to the allegation, and I reject it. I find the RO was not guilty of any act or omission in this regard.
- Giving instructions to absent voters which favoured the Labour Party candidates – I accept the RO’s submissions in relation to this allegation. There is no evidence to support it. There is no substance to this allegation and I reject it. I find that the RO was not guilty of any act or omission in this regard.
- Providing voters with pencils in order to complete ballot papers – This is an absurd allegation. Voters at polling stations have been provided with pencils at polling stations for as long as may be remembered. As the RO points out, he is obliged by rule 26(4) of the 2006 Principal Area Rules to provide materials to enable voters to mark ballot papers. This is what he did at this election. There is no substance in this allegation and I reject it. The RO was not guilty of any act or omission in this regard.
- All the evidence that I have seen indicates that the planning for the conduct of this election was of a high standard, and apart from this petition, there were no complaints about the way it had been conducted. For reasons set out above I reject all allegations contained in the petition. I have found that the RO was not guilty of any act, omission or breach of duty in relation to the election. I am completely satisfied that the election was so conducted as to be substantially in accordance with the law as to elections. The petitioner polled 134 votes as against over 2000 votes being polled by each of the first respondents. This was not a close election. Accordingly the petition must be dismissed. I hereby determine and declare that the first respondents were duly elected.
- Costs – The petitioner to pay the three councillors and the RO’s costs to be assessed, if not agreed. These costs to include the cost of setting up the election court at Stoke Newington Town Hall for the hearing. I have come to a clear view that the petitioner’s conduct was vexatious and frivolous The costs are not to be enforced without the permission of the Senior Master of the Queen’s Bench Division or any Master of the QBD appointed by her. The sum of £10 paid into court by the petitioner as security for costs to be paid out to the RO’s solicitor.