Judge sets date for Carmichael legal hearing
A date has been set for a legal debate into whether Alistair Carmichael should continue as Scotland’s only remaining Liberal Democrat MP.
Lady Paton decided today that the hearing should take place at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on 7th and 8th September.
The judge made the decision after being addressed by Mr Carmichael’s QC Roddy Dunlop. She was also addressed by QC Jonathan Mitchell, who has been instructed by a number of constituents from the Northern Isles.
The residents want Mr Carmichael’s election to the Westminster Parliament in May declared null and void because he allegedly breached the Representation of the People Act.
They have taken legal action because of a leaked Scottish Office memo which formed the basis of a story in the Daily Telegraph on 3rd April.
The article, headlined “Nicola Sturgeon secretly backs David Cameron”, claimed the Scottish First Minister had told the French ambassador to Britain that she preferred to see the Tory leader continue as Prime Minister.
Two days later the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, ordered an inquiry into the leak and Mr Carmichael was also interviewed on the subject by Channel 4 News.
The probe later concluded that Euan Roddin, a former special adviser Mr Carmichael in his role as Scottish Secretary, had his permission to lead the story to the Telegraph.
Mr Carmichael, who won Orkney and Shetland with an 817 majority, left his government role without severance pay.
The constituents who brought the petition, Timothy Morrison, Phemie Matheson, Fiona Grahame and Carolyn Welling, all from Orkney, were aided by crowd funding.
They maintain that Mr Carmichael’s statement on when he first became aware of the leak of the memo took place before the election and was untruthful.
The MP, who was elected in 2010 with a 9,928 majority, claims that he didn’t breach election law because he didn’t make a false statement of fact with regard to the personal character or conduct of a candidate before or during an election for the purpose of affecting votes.
The Representation of the People Act states that a person will be guilty of an illegal practice if before or during an election, for the purpose of affecting the return of a candidate, they make or publish a false statement of fact over a candidate’s personal character or behaviour.
The action called last week at the Court of Session for a procedural hearing. Mr Dunlop told the court that his client believed he didn’t break election laws.
Mr Mitchell told the court that it was common ground that the legal arguments should be dealt with in Edinburgh rather than in the actual parliamentary constituency.
The court heard that live links to the constituency could be provided.
The case was continued until today for another procedural hearing.
Mr Mitchell told the court that he and Mr Dunlop would liaise with each other in the time leading up to the September hearing with regard to legal matters.
He also told the court that commercial broadcasters STV were interested in helping providing television or internet streaming coverage to the Orkney and Shetland constituency.
Mr Dunlop told the court that the broadcasters should receive legal guidance from a senior judge on what they could film.
Telling the court that it was illegal to film proceedings without receiving permission from a senior judge, Mr Dunlop added: “Some guidance would be helpful. It is contempt of court to film proceedings.”
Lady Paton also fixed a hearing into the matter regarding filming in court for 31st August.