A special "Election Court" convened under the Representation of the People Act began hearing evidence yesterday in a case brought against Phil Woolas, the Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, by his defeated Lib Dem 2010 general election opponent Elwyn Watkins.
Mr Woolas beat Mr Watkins by 103 votes, but the Liberal Democrat says the vote was swayed by 'dirty tricks'.
He alleges Mr Woolas 'doctored photographs,' 'misrepresented facts,' and 'stooped to fomenting racial and religious divisions' to guarantee his victory.
Under section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, making or publishing a false statement of fact in relation to a candidate's personal character or conduct is illegal unless you have 'reasonable grounds' for believing the statement to be true.
Mr Watkins's barrister, Helen Mountfield QC, said: "Mr Woolas and his team were playing for high stakes ... They set out to attack Mr Watkins personally and say whatever it took to turn the electorate against him.
"They made an overt and, some may say, shocking decision to set out to 'make the white folk angry' by depicting an alleged campaign by those who they described generically as Asians to 'take Phil out' and then present Mr Watkins as in league with them.
"They falsely suggested that Mr Watkins took this craven stance to the point of refusing to condemn death threats which Mr Woolas claimed had been made against him because he was 'in the pay' of a rich Arab Sheikh.
"This was intended to galvanise the white Sun vote against him."
If found guilty, the former immigration minister could be forced to pay a fine and banned from public office, which would trigger another election in the constituency.
- Phil Woolas campaign 'sought to make white folk angry' (BBC News)
- Immigration law (Findlaw.co,uk)
- Immigration law Q&A (Community)
- Immigration law news (The Solicitor)
- Find an immigration solicitor (Contact Law)