The first attempt by a judge for more than 100 years to name and shame political activists for corrupt and illegal conduct at a local authority election got under way in Birmingham yesterday.
Richard Mawrey QC, the elections commissioner, said he was minded to report 19 Labour Party members and supporters to the High Court over ballot rigging allegations in Bordesley Green.
All of the men, if found to have forged a total of 457 postal vote declarations of identity during last year's city council polls, would be banned from voting or standing in elections for five years.
Reports would be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions and criminal charges could follow.
Mr Mawrey is trying an election petition which claims that 3,000 postal votes in Bordesley Green were forged to favour Labour, depriving three People's Justice Party candidates of victory.
Mr Mawrey said the naming and shaming procedure, under Section 160 of the Representation of the People Act, had not been tested since the 1890s.
All but three of the 19 men are legally represented and will seek to prove their innocence. Upwards of 70 witnesses could be called, the court heard.
Those whom he was minded to name would have an opportunity to answer the charge that they "witnessed bogus declarations of identity".
There was a large body of evidence to show that ballot papers in Bordesley Green were forged, the judge added.
Mr Mawrey said: "A considerable number of these declarations of identity appeared to have been witnessed in circumstances where it was suggested that the person witnessing the signature, or apparently witnessing the signature, was not the person whose name and address appeared on the declaration of identity.
"The person apparently witnessing the signature did not witness the signature of the true voter."
Mr Mawrey's report could extend beyond Bordesley Green and Aston, the subject of the two election petitions he has been considering, to take in the rest of Birmingham.
He will also have to state whether corrupt or illegal practices took place with the consent of election candidates.