Rowntree trust helps Carmichael’s legal fees to the tune of £50,000

A trust with ties to the Liberal Democrats has this week donated a further £16,000 towards Alistair Carmichael’s legal fees, following a donation of £34,000 earlier in the year.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) decided to assist the Northern Isles MP with his legal bill of £155,000 after he was taken to the Court of Session in Edinburgh over the so-called “Frenchgate” scandal.

Four Orkney constituents decided to pursue a case against Mr Carmichael after he admitted to leaking a memo which attempted to undermine SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.

These constituents – dubbed the “Orkney Four” – argued that Mr Carmichael lied in order to protect his position at an election last May. They contended that Mr Carmichael breached the Representation of the People’s Act and that he should have been unseated for his dishonesty, which they said arguably contributed to his narrow re-election over SNP candidate Danus Skene.

Mr Carmichael was cleared of the breach in court although judges criticised his conduct. In a written statement Lady Paton said: “The first respondent’s approach to the inquiry was at best disingenuous and at worst self-serving.”

Because the court took the view that Mr Carmichael had lied for political purposes they ruled that: “Expenses are neither liable or due to any party in the case.” As a result Mr Carmichael and the Orkney Four were left to foot their respective legal bills.

The challengers were able to cover their legal fees via a crowdfunding campaign which saw them raise over £200,000. A similar campaign by Mr Carmichael only mustered around £15,000.

But now those funds have been bolstered by money from the JRRT, whose £50,000 handout is over double the size of any other donation made by the organisation this year.

The JRRT is a York-based limited company founded by the same English Quaker, Liberal and chocolate manufacturer who founded the charitable Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Although the two organisations share a common history they operate under different rules and aims. In a statement released following media interest in the Carmichael donation the trust claimed that it was set up “with the express intention that it should act beyond the limits of charitable activity”.

The trust states that its aims are to “correct imbalances of power” and support “the voice of the individual, the small and weak where that voice is stifled by the group, the big and strong”.

Their values are rooted in a desire to stand up for “the defence of liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom from all forms of oppression, be that political, religious, economic or social”.

Owing to its liberal leanings the organisations has seen fit to donate to Mr Carmichael even though its website claims none of the £1 million granted to various causes annually can go towards legal fees.

Despite the fact that the chairman of the trust, Sir Nick Harvey, was a Liberal Democrat MP from 1992 until 2015, the statement issued by the organisation avoids explicitly lending support to the party.

Instead it claims “the trust has made grants to individuals and organisations within all three major parties”, though it does concede that over the years the trust has “believed in the importance of strengthening the one political party that has most consistently promoted democratic reform and defended civil liberties in Britain”.

This much is obvious given that the organisation granted a total of £90,000 to the Scottish and Welsh Liberal Democrats last year, in order to fund election campaigns for 2016. The only other political party to be granted funds in 2015 for electioneering was the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.

The JRRT have also promised the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors “up to £480,000 over five years to develop campaign infrastructure in England and Wales”.

The organisation, however, claims that the handout to Mr Carmichael was given on principle, and not because of political allegiances.

They reason that it was granted in order to protect “Members of Parliament [from] the risk of personal bankruptcy in defending themselves in court against vexatious and highly political claims”.

This is the view taken by the trust despite Lady Paton ruling that there was no evidence that the “Orkney Four” had brought a “vexatious” case against Mr Carmichael.



Add Your Comment
  • Robin Stevenson

    • April 2nd, 2016 19:14

    A borrowed summary:

    “Alistair Carmichael remains a generously-paid MP and until a few months ago was a government minister on a salary of over £107,000 plus expenses. Having concealed a lie aimed at undermining the democratically-elected First Minister of Scotland until after the election.
    He wasn’t forced to tell lies, he wasn’t forced to cover them up and he wasn’t forced to defend the court case. He could have taken the honourable course – standing down and then fighting the resulting by-election on his record and character.

    Instead, he pursued a petulant, arrogant, deceitful and vindictive option, aiming to ruin four ordinary constituents with crippling legal bills and seeking punitive costs against them in addition to his own lawyer’s fees. His conduct during the case was so unbecoming and dishonest that while finding him not guilty on a legal technicality, the judges ordered him to pay for his own defence, calling his testaments to the court “at best disingenuous, at worst evasive and self-serving“.

    What Joseph Rowntree clearly envisaged with this foundation, has been hijacked to serve as a honeypot for the Lib/Dems, who have sadly failed to carry out his legacy in the ‘spirit’ in which it was created.

  • iantinkler

    • April 2nd, 2016 21:51

    Robin Stevenson, get over it, it is a bit like the Referendum, the Nats last and Orkney Four lost. It is all now history, so brush that chip of your shoulder. However think on poor Dannus Skene. The Orkney Four, after a nasty and vindictive campaign through the Law Courts, lost their case against Ali C. In doing so enriched the Lawyers by about £300,000. The unfortunate four had to find £200,000. In legal fees. Crowdfunding raised that for them at the expense of sympathetic Nationalists, mostly SNP members if you follow the “Yes Shetland” “Orkney Vole” et al web sites. Now Dannus tried to raise funds for his SNP campaign using Crowdfunding. O dear, dear me. After 35 days the modest target of £7000. was not even approached! A mere £2000 raised by 60 odd backers! Strange is it not, a vindictive and negative campaign raise £200,000, yet a far kinder positive fund raiser, for a, I believe, honourable man, fell flat. It speaks loads about the “Nationalist” psyche. Poor Dannus, he may also apply to Joseph Rowntree, after all, he has run as a liberal MP candidate and fancies himself as born again, Jo Grimond. Perhaps that will get him his funding.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • April 2nd, 2016 22:05

    “This is the view taken by the trust despite Lady Paton’s ruling that there was no evidence that the “Orkney Four” had brought a “vexatious” case against Mr Carmichael”. The Orkney four’s costs where paid by people like Robin Stevenson who are not constituents of Orkney and Shetland making this a “vexatious” and undemocratic case. This case was the only thing that was petulant, arrogant, and deceitful because it was nothing to do with what Mr Carmichael did or said but was all about getting one more SNP MP into Westminster to further the aims of nationalism.


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