The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has defended its decision to drop investigations into alleged electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets.
A High Court hearing in front of an Election Commissioner last year found former Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman guilty of corrupt and illegal practices.
But the Met announced in March that it would not pursue any further investigation after finding “insufficient evidence that criminal offences had been committed”.
Campaigners branded the decision to drop the investigation an “utter disgrace” and “incomprehensible”.
Now the Met has attempted to explain its actions. “The Election Commissioner made his findings using the criminal standard of proof, but in doing so he used evidence that would not have been available in criminal proceedings,” a Met Police spokesperson said.
Although civil cases are usually held to a lower standard of proof – a “balance of probabilities” – than criminal trials, the Tower Hamlets election case in the High Court was held to the stronger criminal standard of proof “beyond reasonable doubt”.
The Met spokesperson added: “The MPS does not seek to disagree with the Election Commissioner’s reference to the standard of proof he applied in the High Court proceedings.”
But Andy Erlam, one of the four petitioners who took the case to the High Court, said he “does not buy” the Met’s explanation.
He told the East End Citizen: “The Met position that there’s insufficient evidence beggars belief. Had our evidence not met the criminal standard we would not have won the case.
“Once again the police are looking the other way and letting everyone down. There are mountains of evidence.”
Mr Erlam added: “I feel the police are making excuses for their inaction. It’s an utter disgrace and a cover-up.”
Professor Bob Watt of Buckingham University’s Law School said the “regrettable decision” of the Met to drop the investigation is based on the Government’s failure to “update an archaic procedure”.
He explained that, although the High Court evidence was held to the same standard of proof as a criminal trial would be, rules dating back to the 19th century “render the evidence obtained in the trial of the Election Petition inadmissible in any subsequent criminal trial”.
Election cases and criminal cases also differ in the way they are affected by the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Prof Watt said of the difference: “This is a long-standing rule and many election lawyers doubt that it would stand up if the matter was properly reconsidered.”
He said that election petition procedure is in “desperate need of modernisation,” adding: “A modern procedure would, I think, remove these inconsistencies and give those complaining of electoral fraud, and those suspected of it, a ‘one-stop-shop’ for resolution of these disputes.”