Alistair Carmichael case should be dismissed - QC

Alistair Carmichael is not in court. Picture Greg Macvean

Alistair Carmichael is not in court. Picture Greg Macvean

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A COURT has been asked to dismiss a legal challenge to the election of former Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael.

Four of the Liberal Democrat MP’s Orkney and Shetland constituents have raised a case at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, claiming he misled voters during the general election campaign over the leaking of a memo about First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s meeting with a French ambassador.

Inside the broadcast van at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Picture: Julie Bull

Inside the broadcast van at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Picture: Julie Bull

As the full hearing got under way yesterday, Mr Carmichael’s lawyer told the court the petition lodged in a bid to oust him should be dismissed as it is “irrelevant” and “bound to fail”.

Mr Carmichael, Scotland’s only Liberal Democrat MP, was not present in court for the first day of the hearing.

The hearing, at a specially convened Election Court, began with judge Lady Paton saying it would focus on legal debate surrounding Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

It makes it a criminal offence to release a “false statement” about the character and conduct of an election candidate.

Roddy Dunlop QC, who is representing Alistair Carmichael. Picture: Contributed

Roddy Dunlop QC, who is representing Alistair Carmichael. Picture: Contributed

Lady Paton said the only people entitled to address the court were the lawyers for both sides and stressed that anybody who interrupted proceedings would have to leave the court.

Opening the legal debate, Roddy Dunlop QC, representing Mr Carmichael, asked the court to “dismiss the petition as irrelevant” and added that it is “bound to fail” in law.

The former Scottish secretary came under pressure to quit as an MP after admitting responsibility for a leaked memo written by a civil servant which wrongly suggested Ms Sturgeon wanted David Cameron to win the general election.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood ordered an inquiry after the memo, which claimed Ms Sturgeon told French ambassador Sylvie Bermann she would prefer to see the Conservatives remain in power, became public.

Following the investigation, Mr Carmichael, who had previously insisted he was unaware of the memo, admitted he had allowed his special adviser Euan Roddin to release details of the document which appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 3 April.

Mr Dunlop yesterday said it was accepted that Mr Carmichael’s claim in a Channel 4 interview that he had no prior knowledge of the leak was “not correct”.

The QC also called for a strict interpretation of the Representation of the People Act on the grounds of the “extreme results” that would flow from being found in breach.

These include disqualification from standing for election and not being allowed to vote for three years, the court heard.

Jonathan Mitchell QC, representing the petitioners seeking to oust Mr Carmichael, later set out their stance.

They maintain that the Lib Dem MP - who was ultimately re-elected with a majority of 817 - acted in the way he did “to affect his own return (as a constituency MP) and by obvious logic the return of any other candidate in Orkney and Shetland,” Mr Mitchell told the court.

It was “reasonable” for the petitioners to make such an inference, he added.

The petition calls on the court to “determine that Alistair Carmichael MP was not duly elected or returned and that the election was void”.

The legal challenge – funded via a crowd-funding appeal – is being broadcast live in what is believed to be a television first for a court hearing in Scotland.

The Election Court case is thought to be the first election petition brought in Scotland since 1965.

It is being heard by two judges, Lady Paton and Lord Matthews.

The case continues.