Miles Coates has been cleared to sit as Secretary of the Oxford Union in Michaelmas Term after an official report judged an attempt to dislodge him as an abuse of Union rules and a waste of members’ subscription fees.
The Worcester College student was elected to the position of Secretary in Trinity Term’s elections, beating Melanie Pope and Daniel Alphonsus. However after this result a complaint of electoral malpractice was brought against Coates by Alphonsus. In the resulting tribunal Coates was found guilty and was punished by being deposed as Secretary, disqualified from future Union elections and fined £500.
Coates was initially found guilty of rule 33(a)(i)(24), which concerns ‘taking part in a conspiracy’ to commit electoral malpractice. The Society’s Appellate Board has now quashed this original verdict. A new electoral tribunal was ordered, but the time limit for this to take place in has elapsed.
The Board’s report suspects that the complaint brought about by Alphonsus may be a case of ‘fishing’. This is an underhand practice in which members make vague accusations of electoral malpractice in order to buy themselves time to collect evidence to make more substantive accusations.
The report states that the Board ‘deplores this approach’ which is an ‘abuse of process and wasting of the Union’s time’. One piece of evidence submitted to the original tribunal was a voice recording of a conversation between Alphonsus, Coates and main witness Rahul Ahluwalia in the lunch room of Brasenose College three days before the June election. A video clip and a transcript of a Blackberry messenger conversation were also submitted.
Under questioning from the original tribunal Ahluwalia claimed to have made covert recordings of a variety of conversations including this one. He said he did this simply because he ‘wished to listen to them again’. The tribunal was critical of the testimony of this ‘evasive witness’, and declared that ‘Mr Ahluwalia had set out to entrap the defendant, but had gone about this in such an incompetent fashion that he had in fact produced evidence that might incriminate him [Ahluwalia].’
The original report was similarly scathing about the conduct of Alphonsus, remarking ‘frankly, we should have had some difficulty accepting the Complainant’s evidence to us [even] were it not for the bumbling and shambolic fashion in which he had submitted his complaint.’
The Secretary’s job is to take minutes at public business meetings as well as organise the Union’s termly ball. Coates is now at work arranging a ‘New York, New York’ themed event. The third year law student will sit in the chamber next term alongside President Izzy Westbury, Librarian Izzy Ernst and Treasurer James Freeland.
Westbury commented, ‘I’m incredibly relieved that all of this mess is now over. It’s always a shame when the Union gets entangled in expensive shenanigans that detract from what the society is really about. Now we can finally move on and look forward to what will hopefully be a great term ahead. I have every confidence in Miles that he will do a superb job, and I’m certainly looking forward to the ball he’s now in the middle of organising!’
Union sources estimate that the initial tribunal and subsequent meeting of the Appellate Board have cost members around £1000.