Election fraud could be virtually wiped out if Birmingham adopted Northern Ireland-style security checks, a High Court judge has claimed.
Richard Mawrey QC, who is presiding over an election court examining allegations of corruption at last year's city council elections, said the Government might have to accept that only by introducing stringent regulations would it be possible to prevent the continued mis-use of postal votes.
The court, sitting at the Birmingham and Midlands Institute, has been hearing claims that Labour candidates and supporters in Bordesley Green masterminded "industrial scale" fiddling of up to 3,000 votes by improperly obtaining and filling in postal ballot papers.
The ward's Labour councillors Shah Jahan, Shafaq Ahmed and Ayaz Khan, deny any wrongdoing.
Adults in Northern Ireland wishing to be included on the electoral register have to provide proof of identity and a specimen of their signature.
Records of signatures are kept by elections officials, enabling checks to be carried out on applications for postal voting and on witness declarations. No such checks exist in mainland Britain, where restrictions on postal voting were abolished in 2001.
The court heard allegations that hundreds of votes in Bordesley Green were effectively stolen by fraudsters who falsely applied for postal ballots, forged application forms and witness signatures and then cast all three votes on the ballot paper for Labour candidates.
Mr Mawrey also raised the possibility that, if he decided to declare the three Bordesley Green councillors improperly elected and ordered fresh elections, Birmingham City Council would have to write to people to make sure that their applications were genuine.
As the law stands, at present, the council has no power to drop from the list people who have applied for a permanent postal vote.
The court heard claims, however, that hundreds of fraudulently obtained ballot papers were being sent to false covering addresses - socalled safe houses.
Mr Mawrey said there was no definitive list of bogus applicants, but he had heard a considerable amount of evidence that applications were forged.
A record 70,000 postal votes were issued in Birmingham at the June 10 elections, although only a proportion were for people who wanted a permanent postal ballot.
The demand to vote by post took the council by surprise and left the elections office with far too few staff to deal with applications.
Six days before polling day, John Owen - the elections officer - appealed to council chief executive Lin Homer to recruit 75 additional staff for the count on June 11. Ms Homer emailed council departments asking for volunteers.
Mr Mawrey told him: "The more overwhelmed your department is with postal votes, the less likely it is to spot any fraud."
The case continues.