A Wigan politician and the council are back in court today after a sensational last-ditch bid to have a top judge hear issues with the Bryn by-election was successful.
Steve Jones and former Standish elected representative Gareth Fairhurst got an interim hearing listed in Manchester after a long day of legal debate in London on Tuesday.
Mr Justice Spencer will now preside over an application to stop tomorrow’s by-election, with Mr Jones’ team hoping for a summary judgment.
Following last week’s court judgment the case is now listed at Manchester Civil Justice Centre court for today’s reading: before Justice M Spencer sitting as a Judge of the High Court; Application for interim relief & summary judgment: The Queen on the application of Mr Stephen Jones v Wigan Council & The Returning Officer, a role taken by Wigan Council chief executive Donna Hall.
Mr Fairhurst said it was necessary to prevent the by-election, triggered after Wigan Council controversially claimed Mr Jones had resigned in January, due to the complex legal battles likely to lie ahead.
However, Ms Hall had earlier responded to him by saying the town hall would abide by a judge’s previous verdict that the vote would go ahead.
Although Mr Justice Kerr last Thursday said he believed at this stage that Mr Jones did not resign and the council’s arguments he did were not particularly strong he stopped short of cancelling the vote, albeit with reservations.
However, Mr Fairhurst said new evidence of the potential courtroom havoc ahead made the last-minute intervention necessary.
Mr Fairhurst said: “If we go ahead with the status quo the court’s time will be wasted a lot further. If the judicial review decides Steve Jones is the councillor and someone else is elected on Thursday the only way that can be dealt with is by an election petition.
“We would have to go to court to get that other person out. This is a mess now but it will become a much bigger mess afterwards.
“If the court didn’t think we had a case they wouldn’t have listed it. The simple thing here would be for the council to see sense and call this whole thing off.”
In a response to a letter from Mr Fairhurst advising further legal action was possible Ms Hall said: “It is my view that the election in Bryn ward has already officially commenced in accordance with the timetable set by legislation and guidance from the Electoral Commission.
“It is my view that the election in Bryn ward has already officially commenced in accordance with the timetable set by legislation and Guidance from the Electoral Commission. To date 754 electors of Bryn have cast their vote by post. I consider that not proceeding could result in an election petition from other candidates or agents.
“I consider that not proceeding could result in an election petition from other candidates or agents.
“I have therefore taken the decision as returning officer that in the interests of democracy the by-election should continue as it has been in progress since it was triggered by two electors of the Bryn ward.”