Today, the Judge dismissed Ranjit Banwait’s petition against Cllr Paul Bettany.
Had the petition been successful, Cllr Bettany would have had to have left office immediately. It would have also have had damaging consequences on the political and democratic process.
On the face of it, the case was about a dispute over how Mr Banwait chose to describe his address, and whether or not he lied about it. The petition also suggested that certain pieces of UKIP election literature originally used in 2016, were re-used in 2018, thus potentially having undue influence over the 2018 election result.
There was no doubt that Banwait lives in the Wilmorton district of Derby. That was accepted by Mr Banwait himself and was used in his election nomination paperwork.
There was no doubt that he lives in the electoral ward of Alvaston – that is a matter of objective fact.
It was concluded that there was some subjectivity in the true definition of the district of Alvaston – although for Mr Bettany there was no such ambiguity. The relevant boundary, per Bettany, is the canal path which would leave Mr Banwait’s address outside of his definition of Alvaston.
The court heard of a number of complaints made, by different members of UKIP, to Derby City Council, over the last few years, about Mr Banwait and the way he was using the word “Alvaston” in his address. The Council’s responses were consistent, in accepting that the use of both “Wilmorton” and “Alvaston” were acceptable.
It was not clear from the evidence presented, whether the Council considered that the district boundary was subjective or that it is acceptable to use a Ward name in a postal address. It was made clear that, for the purposes of the election nomination form, that the Council had changed Mr Banwait’s submission to make it conform with their convention by excluding any reference to Alvaston
In this respect the Court concluded, and Mr Bettany’s Barrister conceded, that Mr Banwait had not “lied” about his address as asserted in the UKIP leaflet and, as such, the leaflet contained “false statement”.
This is an illegal practice under s.106(1) of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1983.
A defence was presented.
Political vs Personal
A significant part of Day 2 was debating whether Bettany’s UKIP accusation about Banwait’s address was an attack on Banwait’s “personal character” or “political character”. This distinction determines whether, Bettany would be guilty of the above “illegal practice”.
It was concluded that Bettany’s objective in making the accusation was to question Banwait “politically”. It was accepted that in using “Alvaston” in his address, Banwait was trying to present the position that he lived closer to Boulton ward than he actually does. This was a politicaly inspired act and so therefore was questioning his “political character”
The judge commented that if the “cut and thrust of political debate” was not deemed allowable and had to reined in, then “we might as well build more prisons”.
Banwait’s case asserted that a leaflet used in the 2016 election ( a mock-up of a Labour election leaflet produced by UKIP called “Labour News”) had been re-circulated in 2018, unamended. Although it showed a “wilting Labour rose”, out of date critical comments about the Labour Party and a small reference at the bottom of the leaflet confirming that it was a UKIP document, the judge’s view was that it could have caused “undue influence” on the electorate.
This aspect of the case failed as Banwait’s team could not provide any robust evidence that it was even distributed during the 2018 election. The Judge described the evidence as “woefully inadequate” and based on “3rd hand hearsay”. UKIP evidence was that it was not used. The “imprint” on the document was that of the UKIP Chairman in 2016, Gaurav Pandey, who, in 2018 was the Boulton Ward Conservative candidate. There was no complaint from him.
This was dismissed by the Judge as he was not convinced that the leaflet was in fact used in 2018. He did observe that, in other circumstances, he would have considered this to have been a “fraudulent device” with serious consequences. He said this with some passion in order to “clean up the election process”.
Cllr Bettany’s position.
The judged concluded that Bettany did believe that Banwait was lying based on Bettany’s long history of living in the area, including attending Wilmorton College as a youth ( the location of Banwait’s house). However, the Judge did not agree that Bettany had “reasonable grounds” for calling Banwait a liar given the evidence around the accepted ambiguity of the address.
The overall petition was dismissed and the UKIP costs of £23205 would have to be paid by Banwait on top of his own costs.
The likelihood of this petition ever being successful was always extremely low.
The aspect that Banwait might feel vindicated on was that the Court accepted that he did not ”lie” about his address. It was acknowledged that the use of Alvaston was an acceptable alternative and that he used it for political advantage to make it appear that he lived nearer to his electorate.
Another leaflet that was due to be included in the case , but was excluded from the outset, as it tried to imply “undertones of racism”. This was subject to some discussion and the Judge ruled that taking time up on something of this nature, which was not central to the case, was “unnecessary and undesirable”
The Judge’s comment about the “Labour News” was a warning shot for UKIP in Derby, and others, whose election literature uses questionable tactics to influence the voting public.
The total costs amounting to around £100,000 would be borne, it is understood, by the Labour Party.
The only real winners in this whole saga are the legal team.
Categories: Derby City Council