Court rules disgraced Carmichael has case to answer over false memo
The National SEPTEMBER 30TH, 2015 - 12:28 AM GREG RUSSELL
DISGRACED MP Alistair Carmichael was struggling to cling on to his job last night as he faced the prospect of giving evidence about why he lied about leaking a false memo about Nicola Sturgeon before May’s General Election.
Lady Paton and Lord Matthews issued a legal opinion yesterday, which propelled the four Orkney and Shetland constituents who mounted the action over their first hurdle, by finding that Carmichael did have a case to answer under section 106 of the Representation of the People Act.
The judges said that former Scottish Secretary Carmichael’s statement about when he became aware of the leaked memo was “untruthful, as he was well aware”.
They said: “It was a deliberate attempt to conceal the truth, namely that he was not only aware that the leak of the memorandum had come from the Scotland Office but that he had been directly involved in its release.
“The fact that the first respondent [Carmichael] saw fit to tell untruths in this regard, and to deliberately conceal his role in the leak of the memorandum, relates directly to his personal character. It calls into question his integrity as an individual. It thus calls into question his suitability to represent the constituency at Westminster.”
The case to overturn the election result in the constituency is the first before an Election Court in Scotland for 50 years. It will now go to a “by order” hearing to discuss the next stage of the trial.
The four Orkney residents who brought the People v Carmichael case welcomed yesterday’s ruling. They said: “We are delighted that the courts have vindicated our position so far, that the legislation is relevant and there is a case for Mr Carmichael to answer. We look forward to the proof hearing, where questions of his intention and character are considered.”
One of the four, Fiona Grahame, told The National: “It clearly demonstrated that we do have a case and Roddy Dunlop [Carmichael’s QC] was wrong to say it should be thrown out.
“He [Carmichael] will have to appear at the hearing and give evidence. He’ll have to say what his motivation was for telling lies.
She added: “We’re not witch-hunters, we’re not blackshirts or a rabid mob – we had a genuine case and that’s been shown by this result.”
Fiona Macinnes, another petitioner, said: “Inwardly I’m very pleased but outwardly I’m trying to maintain some decorum.
“Getting this far really was my best hope. It’s all good at the moment and shows that the law took our petition seriously. That’s very positive.”
The petitioners financed their case through crowdfunding website Indiegogo, and have raised almost £89,000 from more than 5,000 contributors.
By contrast a similar bid to raise cash for Carmichael has raised only £7,000 in three weeks.
Grahame said they may have to issue a further crowdfunding appeal, but she hoped Carmichael would see sense.
“The best scenario would be if Alistair realises the situation he’s in and does the honourable thing and resigns. That would be best for everybody and we could donate our leftover funds to food banks.”
The judges said Carmichael had lied in an interview with Channel 4 News, when polling indicated an SNP victory in all Scottish constituencies, and it was believed his statement “was for the purpose of affecting the return of the candidates at the election”.
He made an “admittedly false statement of fact in relation to his personal character as a candidate”, they said, and was “thereby guilty of an illegal practice contrary to section 106 of the Representation of People Act 1983, on which basis the prayer of the petition ought to be granted and the election of 7 May 2015 for the constituency declared void”.
“For the reasons given above, even bearing in mind the serious consequences of an offence in terms of section 106, it is our opinion that (i) section 106 is engaged when a candidate is talking about himself; and (ii) section 106 is engaged if the statement is made for the purpose of‘affecting’ the return of that candidate, whether the statement can be regarded as attacking and vilifying or as praising and laudatory.”
Grahame said she was concerned about how long the case could drag on – and was even thinking about Carmichael’s LibDem colleagues, MSPs Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott.
She said: “We could well see this going on into next year, which means he’ll be affecting the outcome for Liam [Orkney] and Tavish [Shetland].”
A LibDem spokesman said: “Alistair Carmichael will continue to play a full role in the new stages of the legal process ... confident of a positive outcome. “ He added that the MP would continue to work hard for is constituents.