Dame Porter likely to appeal if surcharged

Dame Shirley Porter's appeal against the "homes for votes" surcharge may not be the end of the matter, reports Roger Pearson.

Judgment may be given before Christmas in the case in which Dame Shirley Porter and former colleagues on Westminster City Council are challenging a £31.6m surcharge imposed on them by the district auditor.

The surcharge was imposed in the so-called "homes for votes" affair, in which Porter and the others were accused of being involved in the sale of council houses to voters in key marginal areas. The case was argued for 23 days in October and November before Lord Justice Rose, Mr Justice Latham and Mr Justice Keene.

Porter, with former council deputy leader, David Weeks, former housing committee chairman Peter Hartley, former managing director Bill Phillips, and former housing director Graham England, have been accused of "wilful misconduct" and "disgraceful and improper gerrymandering" between 1987 and 1989.

The sixth member of the group facing the surcharge is Paul Hayler, former divisional housing director, but he is ill and has not been involved in the appeal. Another former councillor, Dr Michael Dutt who was told he too could face surcharges, has committed suicide.

Even before judgment has been given, Anthony Scrivener QC, who is representing Porter, has indicated that an appeal is on the cards should the decision go against them. On the closing day of the case, Scrivener branded the way the challenge to district auditor John Magill had been conducted as unfair and procedurally flawed. He claimed that there had been a "defect in procedure" in that he had not had an opportunity to cross-examine Magill. Magill's lawyers, however, had successfully argued during the hearing that Magill should not be exposed to cross-examination, because in carrying out the Westminster investigations he had been exercising a "judicial function". Scrivener claimed that to prevent cross-examination in a case such as this was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

He also claimed that the way the appeal had been conducted was weighted against Dame Shirley and her ex-colleagues and that time limits imposed on them had led to evidence relating to valuation reports being excluded from the hearing.