Not in living memory has an election petition alleging fraud succeeded in being granted a High Court hearing.
Now, for the first time in 100 years, Birmingham is the scene of two petitions alleging systematic corruption by Labour candidates in the 2004 city council elections.
Richard Mawrey QC, the deputy High Court judge acting as election commissioner, presided over the first day of submissions yesterday into the Bordesley Green petition. Evidence raised by petitioners in Aston will follow shortly.
Shafaq Ahmed, Shah Jahan and Ayaz Khan, Labour councillors in Bordesley Green, owed their election last year to the "grossly improper" use of postal ballots, the court was told.
As many as 3,000 of the 7,137 postal votes in the ward were improperly cast in a variety of ways including false and forged witness signatures and statements of identity, Mr Mawrey was told.
The three councillors alleged to have masterminded "widespread, corrupt and illegal" conduct had Labour Party legal backing removed on February 14, leaving them without representation.
Mr Mawrey made it clear that the outcome of the case could have a serious impact nationally, particularly since a General Election might be three months away.
Commenting on the plight of the three councillors, the judge said: "They have had these allegations hanging over their heads. If the allegations are true and the election was gravely flawed by serious fraud and malpractice, the sooner the election is voided and new elections held the better."
The case will also shed new light on the conduct of elections, following changes in the law which abolished restrictions on postal voting.
Graham Brodie, representing the petitioners, told the court that Lin Homer, the Birmingham returning officer and city council chief executive, failed to "comply with her official duties."
There were issues over the security of postal votes, with ballot forms being stored in carrier bags, and the appearance at the election count of three open boxes containing signed postal ballot votes accompanied by declarations of identity - contrary to electoral law, according to Mr Brodie.
The boxes contained 1,500 votes all for the Labour candidates, and were allowed to stand.
Envelopes that were supposed only to contain a ballot paper also contained declarations of identity. Each envelope was subject to exactly the same clerical error in Labour's favour, Mr Brodie said.
Mr Brodie said Ms Homer should have carried out inquiries into the votes which were "highly suspicious."
The judge said: "A returning officer who was playing everything strictly by the book could have said I am sorry these don't conform with the system and I am not accepting them."
Mr Mawrey added: "Allegations are made about serious failings in the system operated by the returning officer. It is essential, in my view, that these allegations be considered and adjudicated.
"If the allegations are correct then there are serious problems with the current system of postal voting, then the current system is already open to massive and serious fraud. If that is the case it is essential that this is known well before any possible General Election so that the appropriate steps can be taken to safeguard against the recurrence of such fraud."