Tower Hamlets law chief hits out at election rules

Tower Hamlets’ head of legal has lashed out at the Government’s failure to remedy problems with the voting system that she says led to legal challenges against the local election results.

Isabella Freeman, assistant chief executive and legal head of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, says present regulations left her powerless to prevent the alleged fraud that has led to petitions challenging results in four of the borough’s 17 wards following the 4 May local elections.

Petitions were lodged by individuals at the end of May claiming postal-vote fraud in the borough’s wards of Bethnal Green & Shoreditch, Mile End & Globe Town, St Dunstan’s & Stepney Green and St Katharine’s & Wapping .

The legal aid-funded challenges could ultimately force a recount of the vote. However, Freeman argues that with greater legal powers and identity checks on voters, the problems would never have occurred in the first place.

Freeman said: “The council did everything right in terms of following postal-vote procedures, but we don’t have the legal power to challenge the postal-vote application form if it appears to be properly completed.

“In this country you don’t need to show any identification when voting – not even a polling card that is sent to each voter when voting at the polling station. If a postal vote is properly signed and dated, then I, as an election manager, can’t challenge it, even if I suspect something is wrong.”

A bill is being scrutinised in Parliament that is intended to strengthen electoral rules. But Freeman argues that unless identification is made essential for voting, the bill could prove fruitless.