Judges dismiss key plank of Alistair Carmichael defence

ALISTAIR Carmichael faces the prospect of having to explain himself in court over why he lied about his role in the leaking of a memo to harm Nicola Sturgeon.

Four of Carmichael's constituents brought the action against the Orkey and Shetland MP. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The former Scottish Secretary is expected to appear in a specially convened election court after he failed to get a legal challenge against him – backed by a £88,000 crowd-funding campaign – thrown out at the first opportunity.

Yesterday the two judges tasked with deciding whether the Lib Dem MP for the Orkney and Shetland broke electoral laws ruled that they wanted to hear more evidence.

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The court case was brought against Mr Carmichael under the Representation of the People Act when four of his constituents claimed the MP misled the electorate over a memo which claimed SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon wanted David Cameron to be re-elected Prime Minister.

The case arose from remarks made by Mr Carmichael at the start of the general election campaign in April.

The MP, who had been Scottish Secretary in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition before the election, authorised leaking a civil service memo suggesting the First Minister had told the French ambassador she backed Tory PM David Cameron to remain in Downing Street.

The contents of the memo were denied by Ms Sturgeon and the ambassador. Mr Carmichael had initially denied leaking the memo when interviewed before the General Election.

Later, he admitted responsibility for authorising the leak when the matter was investigated by the UK’s most senior civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood.

In a preliminary hearing, Mr Carmichael’s lawyer Roddy Dunlop QC urged judges at the election court, convened in Edinburgh’s Court of Session, to dismiss the case.

Mr Dunlop argued that the Representation of the People Act only applied to politicians who lied about rival candidates.

But in a judgment issued yesterday, Lady Paton and Lord Matthews said the act covered a politician who made an untruthful statement about their own conduct. The judges ruled they now wanted to hear evidence about whether Carmichael’s denial was “said for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election”.

A Lib Dem spokesman said: “Alistair Carmichael will continue to play a full role in the new stages of the legal process that are ongoing, confident of a positive outcome. Alistair’s focus will remain working hard for his constituents.”Read more - Brian Wilson: Court case is a dangerous precedent