Case concludes leaving MP’s fate in judges’ hands
Beleaguered isles MP Alistair Carmichael has been described as having launched an “unguided missile” over his role in the leaking of a memo in the general election campaign.
The future of the former Scottish Secretary is now in the hands of judges after final submissions were presented today at the reconvened Election Court in Edinburgh.
It follows evidence given by Mr Carmichael, and his Holyrood counterpart, Tavish Scott earlier in the week – as well as one of the four constituents, Fiona Grahame, who helped bring the case under the Representation of the Peoples Act (1983) to court.
The quartet of Orkney residents insist the electorate was misled over the leaking of a memo prior to the general election, which resulted in a story in The Daily Telegraph claiming First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would have preferred to have seen
David Cameron’s Conservative party returned to 10 Downing Street. That was promptly denied both by the First Minister and the French Ambassador.
Mr Carmichael’s legal representatives insist the Lib Dem MP’s actions were politically-motivated and did not affect his re-election in May.
During a lengthy televised submission this morning, the constituents’ lawyer, Jonathan Mitchell QC, argued Mr Carmichael’s actions were a “frolic” of his own making.
Mr Mitchell focused on the MP’s failure to tell an official inquiry the truth about his role in the government leak until five days after he was elected to parliament.
“He goes into the inquiry with three people knowing the truth of the matter – himself, Mr [Euan] Roddin [Mr Carmichael’s special adviser at the time] and Mr Simon Johnson of The Daily Telegraph.
“The oddity of this case is that we have a Liberal Democrat MP, as he was until 30th March, with a Liberal Democrat adviser who wished to launch this unguided missile out of the blue, and he goes – for that purpose – to a Conservative-supporting journalist at a Conservative-supporting paper who, it is predicted, may use it in the manner of his choice. Mr Johnson chooses the precise timing. He will choose the glosses to be put upon it.”
The QC said Mr Carmichael believed the truth over his role in the memo would never be revealed.
“In the event, he has broken the 11th commandment,” Mr Mitchell said, “thou shalt not get found out”.
A key element of the debate is the interpretation of Section 106 of the Act.
It states that: “A person who, before or during an election, makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct shall be guilty of an illegal practice, unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true.”
Mr Mitchell insisted: “Honesty and dishonesty are, in their nature, personal.
“The starting point is the dishonesty. It is deeply personal. It is the core element in integrity, which is itself practically synonymous with personality, and we never get away from that in this case.”
However, Mr Carmichael’s lawyer, Roddy Dunlop QC, said the case against the MP should be dismissed.
In giving his closing statement he argued it could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt he did it to secure his own re-election.
Mr Dunlop insisted the leak was politically-motivated, adding the basis of the case being brought against the MP was solely on a Channel 4 News interview.
“If one thing has been made clear in this case it is the leak was politically motivated.”
He said it would be a strange way to enhance his own chances of re-election by “blurting out” an answer – following earlier refusals to respond – in a televised news interview.
“His position was clear that what he was doing was, in part, to protect Mr Roddin, and in part to protect the interests of his party. He wanted to keep the focus of what he thought was a politically explosive story contained in the memorandum, rather than anything else.”
Judges, Lady Paton and Lord Matthews, will present their judgment to the House of Commons.