Voters who brought down the corrupt mayor of a London borough should be bailed out by the government, the head of a local council has said.
John Biggs, the serving Mayor of Tower Hamlets, expressed outrage after learning that four plaintiffs in a legal case that ended the notorious reign of his predecessor Lutfur Rahman were being “burdened to the point of bankruptcy”.
Election judge Richard Mawrey QC found Rahman guilty of illegal and corrupt practices and declared his re-election in May 2014 void.
But so-called election petitioners Debbie Simone, Andy Erlam, Azmal Hussain and Angela Moffat, who bravely brought the case, say law firm Richard Slade and Company is continuing to press them for immediate payment of some £210,000 in unpaid fees.
Slade and Company has declined to comment, saying they do not discuss their clients’ or former clients’ confidential matters with journalists.
But that has not stopped the Tower Hamlets petitioners from starting a fundraising campaign and encouraging the public to donate to their cause.
Biggs has now written to the government to point out that the four took “great risks” to restore democracy in Tower Hamlets.
In his letter, which was sent to 10 Downing Street and has been seen by London Citizen, Biggs wrote: “With Lutfur Rahman removed from office and subsequently declared bankrupt, the petitioners now face crippling legal costs.
“No fair minded observer would consider this acceptable given that the petitioners were fundamentally performing a service to society.”
He added that he had initially asked council officers to investigate whether Tower Hamlets Council would be able to contribute to the petitioners’ outstanding legal bills but was told that this would “be in breach of our fiduciary duty to local taxpayers”.
They could not afford to pay solicitors during the election court process, their only paid professional help was Francis Hoar, a barrister who they then sought to pay by recovering costs awarded against Rahman, and they say their only concern was the public good.
It was in order to recover their costs that they hired Richard Slade and Company.
But Erlam told London Citizen it cost more in legal fees to seize Rahman’s assets than they were worth and said Slade and Company had not properly informed them of the amount they would be ultimately charged.
Today he remarked: “The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is asking central government to pay our election petition legal bills – funny old world!”
In September Biggs said it was “entirely wrong” for the four petitioners to be facing such a large legal bill.