Monday sees the start of a court case against Labour MP Phil Woolas alleging false statements were made about his Liberal Democrat opponent, Elwyn Watkins, during the general election earlier this year.
The case will involve a court judging on how far it is acceptable to go in very robust election literature. It involves the rarely used provision in Section 106 of the 1983 Representation of the People Act which covers false statements about candidates:
(1) A person who, or any director of any body or association corporate which—
(a) before or during an election,
(b) for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election, makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct shall be guilty of an illegal practice, unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true.
(2) A candidate shall not be liable nor shall his election be avoided for any illegal practice under subsection (1) above committed by his agent other than his election agent unless—
(a) it can be shown that the candidate or his election agent has authorised or consented to the committing of the illegal practice by the other agent or has paid for the circulation of the false statement constituting the illegal practice; or
(b) an election court find and report that the election of the candidate was procured or materially assisted in consequence of the making or publishing of such false statements.
A defeat for Phil Woolas would see him disqualified from being an MP and a by-election in an extremely marginal Labour-Liberal Democrat contest.
Blogger Nick Thornsby has been given media accreditation for the case and will be covering it online as he explains here.