A British court on Friday threw out the results of a parliamentary election after deciding that the victor had gone too far in distorting his opponent's positions.
Experts warned the ruling clears the way for judges to referee electoral contests — a potentially messy precedent.
Woolas accused Liberal Democrat opponent Elwyn Watkins of receiving support from Muslim militants who advocate violence. Watkins, who lost the May 6 contest by 103 votes, accused Woolas in court of trying to stir up ethnic and religious divisions.
The ruling, the first of its kind for at least 99 years, costs Woolas, a former immigration minister, his seat in parliament, since the judges ruled he cannot sit in the House of Commons for the next three years. He was suspended from the Labour Party Friday afternoon.
"I think judges should stay out of it," he said. "We haven't had this happen since the 19th century. I regard it as a dangerous intrusion by the judiciary into what is basically a political process."
He said that in a typical election campaign numerous accusations are made by both sides.
"The general effect will be to curb freedom of expression and candidates will be reluctant and take great care in what they say knowing they could be pounced on and face legal action," he said.
Woolas announced an immediate appeal and said through his lawyer that the ruling marks a setback for freedom of speech.
"It is vital to our democracy that those who make statements about the political character and conduct of election candidates are not deterred from speaking freely for fear that they may be found to have breached electoral laws," lawyer Gerald Shamash said on Woolas' behalf. "This decision will inevitably chill political speech."
It was not immediately clear if a new election would be scheduled before the appeal is heard.
Judges Nigel Teare and Griffith Williams ruled that Woolas had gone too far in attacking his opponents' "personal character or conduct."
They also said he had known he was making a false accusation when he accused Watkins of breaking a promise to live within the parliamentary district.
Source: AP News