Election court decision is final and will incur substantial court costs
AN ELECTION COURT has rejected a challenge to the election of Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, over a lie he told regarding his involvement in the ‘Frenchgate’ memo leaking scandal during the May General Election.
The election court judges, Lady Paton and Lord Matthews, found that it was not proven that Carmichael had lied about his character when denying involvement in the scandal.
While secretary of state for Scotland, Carmichael authorised the leaking of a memo , containing inaccurate information, from his government department to the Telegraph newspaper during the 2015 General Election campaign.
The leaked memo contained an erroneous record of a conversation between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the French ambassador to Scotland, wherein Sturgeon reportedly informed the ambassador that she would prefer a Conservative government following the election.
Carmichael claimed during the election period when asked by journalists that he had no knowledge of the leak despite having approved it.
“Access to justice is very difficult if not impossible with costs like this.” Legal expert Dr Nick McKerrell
The case was brought to court by four of Carmichael’s constituents under the Representation of the People Act 1963. Under the act it was necessary to prove that Carmichael had lied about his own character during the election, and that this lie had affected the outcome of his election.
Though the judges did not dispute that Carmichael lied, they said in their judgement that there remained “reasonable doubt” as to whether the lie was about his own character or a political lie – a difference which was central to the legal criteria necessary to prove a breach of the law.
Legal expert Dr Nick McKerrell of Glasgow Caledonian University told CommonSpace that election courts, which are highly unusual , are the final arbitrators in their cases, meaning that no appeals or challenges to the judges’ decision can be made.
He said: “The Election Court under the Representation of the People Act 1983 is the final arbiter of any dispute on election law
“This means it is the end of the road legally for the Orkney 4. As it was heard in the Court of Session in Edinburgh the costs will be prohibitively high.”
McKerrell said that the financial burden of losing the case could be considerable for Carmichael’s four constituents.
He said: “They could reach well over quarter of a million as they will now be liable for Carmichael’s costs. Access to justice is very difficult if not impossible with costs like this.”
In July, the Telegraph was found guilty of breaching media standards by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso).
The newspaper was found to have breached Clause 1 of the editors code of practice, which states that care must be taken to avoid publishing inaccurate information.
Carmichael stated during the trial that the fabricated memo claiming Nicola Sturgeon hoped for a Conservative election victory in 2015 reflected a widely held view of the SNP’s attitude.
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Picture courtesy Liberal Democrats