Three town councillors in Winsford face by-elections after the courts ruled that their nomination papers were invalid as they were signed by people from outside the ward:
Winsford Town Council ward members for Over, Gina Lewis, Margaret Dolphin and Graham Cawley were respondents in the election court trial held in Winsford last week.
It was claimed their nomination forms for the May 7 elections were invalid as they were seconded by people who did not live in the Over ward.
Honour Judge Saffman upheld the petition raised by former Lib Dem councillor Charles Parkinson – who lost his seat in the ward – and declared the election for the Over ward is void.
At one level, this story is a pretty straight forward tale of candidates getting their paperwork wrong and a new election being forced. It does, however, come with some wrinkles.
First it highlights – yet again – just how slow moving the legal system is. The election was held last May and the potential error was highlighted in fact in April. There was very little debate over the facts of the case and no protracted investigations required. Yet it has taken nearly a year for the legal outcome. ‘Speed up our courts’ is a remarkably absent demand from usual political discourse.
Second there is the odd defence by the Chief Executive of Cheshire West and Chester Council – the man responsible for running the election: “Mr Robinson told the court he carried out an ‘informal’ check on the nomination forms, before running them through council software. “On the face of it the forms looked valid and then we did the check and it did not say it was invalid,” he said. Mr Robinson was made aware of the error three weeks before the elections, the court heard.” Given the legal responsibility and the clarity of the law in this case that’s not much of an explanation. The nomination papers were not flawed due to some obscure rule but due to one of the most basic elements that should be checked.
Moreover, he supplied badly worded forms to the candidates, missing out a key word and getting a reference wrong:
Judge Saffman said the breach did affect the result as the three invalidly nominated candidates won the election.
While acknowledging they had made ‘innocent’ mistakes, Judge Saffman said the three candidates were the ‘authors of their own misfortune’.
“It is clearly the responsibility of the candidates to make sure that the forms are properly completed,” he said.
However, Judge Saffman said he could not ‘absolve’ Mr Robinson entirely as he supplied defective forms that did not include the word ‘ward’.
The forms also referred to the wrong guidance in its appendix.
The mistaken signatures were also made involving, amongst others, a group of people who really should have known better as they were not newcomers to the political process:
Mrs Lewis, who was mayor of Winsford at the time, said her nomination form was partly filled out by the Eddisbury Labour Party’s agent, Brian Clarke.
Mr Clarke, Winsford Town Council ward member for Gravel and CWAC cabinet member for economic development and infrastructure, seconded Mrs Lewis’ form but he didn’t live in the ward.
Mr Cawley’s form was invalidly seconded by Don Beckett, CWAC Labour councillor for Winsford Over and Verdin who also lived outside the area. Mr Cawley could not attend the trial.