Letter: Legal challenge to Bell is absurd

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The Independent Online
Sir: You report ("Hamilton legal threat puts Bell on hold", 16 April) that Martin Bell "was advised by the returning officer that describing himself as an 'anti-corruption' candidate could leave him open to a legal challenge". Such advice would seem to be at variance with clearly expressed electoral law.

The returning officer has neither the obligation nor the power to arbitrate upon the descriptions offered by candidates other than to ensure that no more than six words are used. Current Home Office advice to acting returning officers is that if a nomination paper is properly submitted, together with necessary forms and the deposit, the candidate must be accepted.

The acting returning officer cannot go behind a candidate's preferred label and evaluate whether it is appropriate. Several such challenges involving the descriptor "Socialist" have been rejected on that basis since this election was announced. If Mr Hamilton believes he is being defamed then he must put that before a jury in a defamation action.

Martin Bell has now apparently been cowed by Mr Hamilton's lawyers into changing his description to "independent" on the basis that to have persisted with the phrase "independent anti-corruption candidate" could have led to the Tatton election result being appealed to an election court. The argument of Mr Hamilton is preposterous. If his reasoning is correct then, come 2 May, scores of results up and down the country will be appealable by losing candidates who claim that they were prejudiced by an unfair insinuation in the title of another candidate.

Dr GARY SLAPPER

The Law School

Staffordshire University

Stoke-on-Trent

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