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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Woolas seeks reversal of MP ruling

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Phil Woolas is to ask three High Court judges to overturn a decision stripping him of his Commons seat

Former minister Phil Woolas is to ask three High Court judges to overturn a decision stripping him of his Commons seat.

In a rare ruling, a specially-convened election court declared the General Election result in Oldham East and Saddleworth “void”. It removed Mr Woolas as the MP and banned him from standing for election for three years after finding him guilty of deliberately lying about a rival, Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins.

Lord Justice Thomas, Mr Justice Tugendhat and Mrs Justice Nicola Davies are set to hear his fast-tracked application for judicial review.

The legal challenge has been brought on for hearing as a matter of urgency to ensure the seat does not go too long without an MP.

Labour – which immediately suspended him from the party – said it would delay calling a fresh election pending the legal fight.

Many Labour MPs have rallied round Mr Woolas and contributed to a fighting fund amid open revolt over the leadership’s decision to “hang him out to dry”. On Monday Mr Woolas said he was “humbled” and “blown away” by the support he had received. Constituents, MPs and party members raised more than £30,000 in 48 hours, with donations ranging from £5 to £1,000.

Deputy leader Harriet Harman came under fire from colleagues for cutting the former immigration minister adrift and signalling there was no way back for him. She said after the hearing that Mr Woolas had no future as a Labour MP even if he succeeded in overturning the ruling because lies had “no place” in the party’s campaigning.

But Labour MPs said it was unfair to write him off while he was still in the process of appealing against the ruling – airing their criticisms at a party meeting and in the media.

Mr Woolas was found guilty of illegal practices under election law over comments made in his campaign material that Mr Watkins tried to “woo” the votes of Muslims who advocated violence and that he had refused to condemn extremists who advocated violence against the Labour ex-minister.

The election court judges ruled that, although made in the context of an election campaign, they clearly amounted to attacks on his opponent’s “personal character or conduct” and Mr Woolas, who beat Mr Watkins by just 103 votes in a bitter campaign, had “no reasonable grounds for believing them to be true and did not believe them to be true”.

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