The QC leading the legal challenge against Alistair Carmichael says the MP “characterised” his involvement in the row over a leaked memo as being about his “personal character and conduct” – and not his political position.
Jonathan Mitchell was responding to claims made yesterday that Mr Carmichael’s motives in leaking the communication between the First Minister and the French Ambassador had been political.
The leaked memo had falsely claimed that Nicola Sturgeon would have preferred to see David Cameron returned to Downing Street after the election.
Four of Mr Carmichael’s Orkney constituents are seeking for him to stand down as MP, claiming he breached the terms of the Representation of the People Act when he lied about his involvement in leaking the memo to the national media.
Yesterday, Mr Carmichael’s QC, Roddy Dunlop, argued the televised case at the rarely-convened election court should be dismissed because it was “bound to fail”.
Mr Dunlop argued an attack on a candidate’s political position did not equate to an attack on character.
But speaking today Mr Mitchell cited reports in The Orcadian newspaper, in which the MP disclosed the impact the dispute had had on his family.
Highlighting the View from Westminster column from within the Orkney paper – which was also used in The Shetland Times – the QC quoted Mr Carmichael: “I understand that my behaviour has done damage to the relationship of trust I have with many of you as a member of Parliament”.
“He regrets that,” said Mr Mitchell.
“He describes how he has been a member of Parliament ‘made our home and raised our children here … A community in which there is no hiding place’.
“Then he says this – ‘the impact of my behaviour is felt not just by me, but by my family, friends and supporters’.”
“Why is the impact felt by family, unless it’s personal character? There can be no answer to that. The political position might have an impact on supporters, but not on family.”
But his comments were met with scepticism from the bench. Judge Lady Paton said: “I think when a politician meets with hard times, for whatever reason, it can affect family – whether it’s political or personal.
“I don’t think we can assume just because there is a reference there to family and friends that this is personal, as such.
The second judge on the bench, Lord Matthews, observed: “They often wheel the family out for the cameras.”
Mr Mitchell agreed it would be wrong to assume anything from a single statement. But he said Mr Carmichael had characterised the incident as about his personal character and conduct, and not simply about a political position.
Yesterday Mr Mitchell said the MP admitted lying to help retain his seat for the isles.
He said nothing put forward by those seeking for the former Scottish secretary to stand down has been contradicted.
Mr Carmichael retained his seat in May’s election by a massively shortened majority of just 817.
Mr Mitchell gave Lady Paton and Lord Matthews a lengthy list of bullet-point statements arguing that Mr Carmichael had breached the terms of the Representation of the People Act.
“He does not dispute that he made the statements we rely upon, to Channel 4 and The Daily Record,” he said.
“He does not dispute that these statements were statements of fact. And he does not dispute that they were false.
“He doesn’t admit the word ‘false’ in terms, the euphemism used in his answers is a “mis-statement of awareness”.
“He has described them elsewhere … as dishonest and untruthful.
“He has certainly not come to this court claiming that, somehow or another, they are not false, within the meaning of the act.
“He does not dispute that this was before or during an election.
“He does dispute that this was for the purpose – that he made them, that is to say … for the purpose of returning any candidate at the election.
“Our position being that his purpose was to effect his own return,or by obvious logic, the return of any other candidate in Orkney and Shetland.”
Lady Paton, on seeking clarity, said: “But if you succeeded, others wouldn’t.”
“Exactly,” replied Mr Mitchell.
Mr Mitchell was talking during the afternoon session of the court, following earlier arguments from Mr Carmichael’s legal representative, Roddy Dunlop QC.
His comments came as Mr Carmichael, who was not at the proceedings, thanked his supporters and said the best thing he could do was continue with his work as an elected Westminster member.
“Thank you to everyone for their texts, e-mails, cards and messages of support in relation to the election court case in Edinburgh today,” he said in a message on Facebook yesterday.
“It is all really appreciated not just by me but by Kate and the boys as well. The number of people who have stopped us on the street or in the supermarket or elsewhere over the past few weeks to wish us well has been phenomenal and is quite touching.
“My attendance in court today is not required. This is a debate on the law in which I shall be represented by my counsel and solicitors. It is not an occasion when evidence is heard so I am in Westminster, getting on with the job.
“In particular I shall be seeking to represent the hundreds of people who have been in touch about the unfolding refugee crisis and the government’s response to it. I am also expecting to meet a delegation from the National Farmers Union of Scotland. That all seemed like a more sensible use of my time.”