Thursday, 11 June 2015

The unsung hero who single-handed brought justice to Tower Hamlets

It's a bold headline and not strictly true, but bear with me.

You will have seen that 4 people took a case to an election court claiming that Lutfur Rahman, the (apparent) mayor of Tower Hamlets was corrupt. They won. Here is the BBC's mostly harmless summary of the decision. (I say mostly harmless: you have to wonder why they were quoting Ken Livingston at the end attacking the Court's decision.)

The judgment is here. It is long but (once you skip past the technical legal bits) full of interest. There is the councillor who voted twice, the cleric who lied on oath, the voters who signed identical witness statements and lied and so on. Look out for Mr Choudhury too:

"Mr Choudhury was a very unsatisfactory witness. He was arrogant, indeed cocky, and did not hesitate to tell bare-faced lies in the smug assurance that the mere lawyers listening him would not have the wit to see through them. He also came over as an immature man who possessed, and did not shrink from expressing, outrageous views. ... In describing Mr Choudhury as Mr Rahman's right-hand man, perhaps the slang term 'hatchet-man' would be more appropriate. The modus operandi of the two men would be that Mr Rahman would retain a statesmanlike posture, making sure that he always said the right thing – particularly in castigating electoral malpractice – while what might be called 'the dirty work' was done by Mr Choudhury. This was especially apparent in the campaign against Mr Biggs which will be discussed below, in which, on the surface at least, Mr Choudhury would be responsible for the attempted character-assassination of Mr Biggs while Mr Rahman claimed to have had no input into – indeed, on occasion, not even to have read – the press releases put out in his name."

As judgments go, it's not a bad read.

Now, I have nothing for respect for the four petitioners who brought the case. As the judge (strictly speaking, the election commissioner) said:

"To bring an election petition as a private citizen requires enormous courage. If things go wrong and the petition is dismissed, the Petitioners face a potentially devastating bill of costs which, unless they are very fortunate, may well bankrupt them. ...

If the bringing of an election requires courage in ordinary circumstances, bringing a petition to try to unseat Mr Rahman required courage of a very much higher order. The Petitioners knew that Mr Rahman would deploy all his resources to defeat them and could rely on the Bangladeshi media to back him all the way. The Petitioners would be portrayed as racists and Islamophobes, attempting to set aside the election (by a large majority) of a Mayor whose government of the Borough had been inspirational, for no better reason than the fact that he was a Bangladeshi. And so it proved. The Petitioners have been duly vilified - but they have hung in there. ... And they have been vindicated."

But the man the headline is about is Francis Hoar, the petitioners' barrister. This was a huge case. And he did it, in effect, on his own. This is what the judge said about him:

"For Mr Hoar, this has been a complete tour de force. He accepted the case on the basis of direct access. That is to say that his four clients, members of the public, could not afford to instruct and therefore did not instruct solicitors. Mr Hoar, with such assistance as his lay clients could give him, has thus single-handedly conducted the entirety of the case: pleadings, witness statements, disclosure, directions, the Scrutiny, preparation of the trial and conduct of the trial. Though he occasionally allowed his enthusiasm to get the better of his judgment, he has carried the entire case on his back and has brought it to a successful conclusion. By any standards this was a considerable feat and worthy of the admiration of the court." Of one of Hoar's opponents, the judge said: "There were times when he obviously found Mr Hoar to be 'unplayable', and he was not alone."

Direct access work is not subject to the 'cab rank' rule. That is to say, Hoar did not have to take the case - he chose to. He would have known when he took it on that it would be a massive job and that his clients did not have much money, and yet he took it on and saw it through to the end. He has done a great public service and I think he deserves appropriate recognition for the job he has done.

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