26/04/2012 12:32 BST | Updated 26/04/2012 13:14 BST

Local Election Fraud Potential "Enormous', Warns Judge Mawrey

The forthcoming local elections present "enormous opportunities" for vote-rigging and electoral fraud, a senior judge warned today.

Judge Richard Mawrey - who in 2005 disqualified six Birmingham councillors in a case which he said would have "disgraced a banana republic" - said virtually nothing had been done since then to improve the security of the voting system.

"The sticking plaster approach hasn't worked," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

The opportunities for fraud are now precisely the same as they were at Birmingham.

"Particularly in local elections, where a small number of votes will make a considerable difference, then the opportunities for fraud are enormous, the chances of detection very small, and a relatively modest amount of fraud will guarantee you win the election.

"It is made worse by the fact that local elections traditionally have a very low turnout.

"The lower the turnout, the less fraud you need to get your result."

He said that concerns continued to centre on the system of postal voting on demand which remained particularly vulnerable to abuse.

His comments came as the Electoral Commission said it was referring a complaint from Labour councillors in the London borough of Tower Hamlets to Scotland Yard.

However - with elections in England, Scotland and Wales just a week away - the commission was criticised by the local government minister Grant Shapps for being too slow to act.

"What the Electoral Commission has done has not been enough," he said in an interview for The World at One.

"There is a sense of complacency that has run through this."

With polls pointing to a close race between Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone in the battle for London Mayor, Mr Shapps said it was important the result was not blighted by fraud.

"If the election outcome is marginal, then I think people will be extremely concerned it has taken so long for this issue in Tower Hamlets to be referred to the police," he said.

"This is obviously an operational decision for the police, but I would imagine that they would be interested in looking at whether there should be a policeman stationed at perhaps each of the sensitive polling stations in Tower Hamlets in order to make sure that there is no intimidation."

The commission's director of electoral administration, Andrew Scallan, insisted that they had referred the matter to the police as soon as they had received the letter from Tower Hamlets.

While he said that there was no evidence of large-scale fraud, he acknowledged that the system would be more secure once individual voter registration was in place.

"Until electoral registration comes in there is that potential but there has been no evidence of large scale cases of fraud since 2007," he told The World at One.

He defended postal voting on demand, saying that it was very popular with the public.

"Nationally, 15% of the electorate use it and all the evidence we have after each election is that they find it very convenient because, whatever their domestic circumstances are, they don't find it very easy to get to a polling station," he said.