Alistair Carmichael loses court battle and faces £150k legal bill

Alistair Carmichael  . Picture: TSPL
Alistair Carmichael . Picture: TSPL
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A GROUP of Orkney constituents who challenged the election of former Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael over the so-called “memogate” row say they feel “vindicated” after he was ordered to pay legal expenses.

The Orkney and Shetland MSP now faces an estimated bill of £150,000 over the case which was brought after it emerged he leaked a confidential memo suggesting First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wanted David Cameron to remain as Prime Minister – then lied about it.

The senior Liberal Democrat said last night he was “disappointed” at the decision.

Mr Carmichael saw off an attempt to have him ousted as an MP over the affair when he won a court case last December brought under the Representation of the Peoples Act. However, a move to have the group who brought that case against him to pay his legal fees was rejected by judges who said there was nothing malicious about the group’s attempt.

Tim Morrison, one of the so-called Orkney Four, last night welcomed the outcome.

He said: “I’m very relieved at the decision. I think that we have been vindicated after all the stuff that it had been a conspiracy. If that had been true, we would have been paying Carmichael’s expenses and the punitive element as well. But the court has taken exactly the opposite view.”

The four constituents have covered their own legal costs, estimated to be about £185,000, after an online fundraising drive raised nearly £210,000.

Mr Carmichael has raised more than £14,000 towards his expenses, estimated to be in the region of £150,000.

He said: “Having won the case, this ruling is disappointing. However, the court has absolute discretion in these matters. We will now consider how these costs will be met.

“As has been the case since I was elected, my focus will remain serving the people of Orkney and Shetland at Parliament to the best of my ability.”

Brian Wilson: Court case is a dangerous precedent

The former Scottish secretary authorised the leak of a memo to the Telegraph newspaper which indicated that Ms Sturgeon had claimed during a meeting with the French ambassador to the UK that she wanted David Cameron to win the election. Both the First Minister and the ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, denied the remarks.

Although he won the subsequent election court, Mr Carmichael faced a series of embarrassing revelations.

The court observed that Mr Carmichael had told a “blatant lie” when, in the course of a Channel 4 interview on Sunday 5 April 2015, he claimed he had only become aware of a memo leaked to the press by his special adviser, Euan Roddin, when he was contacted by a journalist.

The judges in December found Mr Carmichael’s conduct “at best disingenuous and at worst self-serving” in a written judgement.

He also failed to tell the Cabinet Office leak inquiry or senior members of his own party about his role in the leak, or to candidly answer questions from the media, until after the general election. In the end he held his seat with a reduced majority of 817 votes, and was the only Liberal Democrat MP returned in Scotland.

Mr Carmichael did apologise to Ms Sturgeon and refused to take the ministerial severance pay owed him after failing to hold on to his post as Scottish secretary.

His advocate, Roddy Dunlop QC, returned to court yesterday and asked the judges to order the constituents to foot his client’s legal bill.

However, judges refused the request. Lady Paton said she and Lord Matthews couldn’t find any evidence that the constituents’ claims were malicious.

She said: “Expenses are neither liable or due to any party in the case.”

Mr Dunlop had earlier told the court that Mr Carmichael wasn’t a wealthy man and it wasn’t fair for him to pay the bill. He added: “Mr Carmichael has already suffered very publicly the consequences of this court’s rebuke.

“It would not be fair in a situation where he has from the outset denied any breach of section 106 to saddle on him the entire costs of defending this simply because the court was unimpressed by his behaviour.”

Jonathan Mitchell QC, for the petitioners, told the court there had been a public interest in bringing the case and pointed out they had successfully argued several points.

He said: “This is not a petition brought frivolously or vexatiously, and indeed Mr Dunlop has not suggested that it was.”

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