The advocate for former Scotland Secretary Alistair Carmichael whose election as MP for Orkney and Shetland is being challenged has asked judges in theElection Court to “dismiss the petition as irrelevant”.
Roddy Dunlop QC said the attempt by some of Mr Carmichael’s constituents, who raised £88,000 to bring the challenge, was “bound to fail” and that it was “wrong in law”.
The Election Court, comprising Lady Paton and Lord Matthews, is sitting for the third time in 50 years after Mr Carmichael admitted he lied about consenting to the leaking of a civil service memo that falsely stated that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told French ambassadorSylvie Berman she wanted David Cameron returned as Prime Minister in this year’s general election.
The claim was recorded by a civil servant in the Scotland Office after a briefing by the French consul general in Edinburgh, Pierre Alain Coffinier.
The Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood subsequently ordered an official inquiry into the leak while Mr Carmichael told Channel 4 News he was unaware of the source of the leak.
However, after he had been re-elected to his seat he admitted he had lied and that he allowed the memo to be leaked.
Mr Carmichael’s election could be struck down under the Representation of the People Act 1983.
Jonathan Mitchell QC for the four constituents, argued the “only reasonable inference” that could be made about the lie was that it was to ensure Mr Carmichael was elected in favour of his opponents.
He told the court: “Our position is that his statement was to affect his own return and by obvious logic not the return of any other candidate in Orkney and Shetland.”
He added: “It is instructive that nothing put forward on this is contradicted.”
However, Mr Dunlop argued Mr Mitchell had entirely misread and misinterpreted the 1983 Act.
He said the legislation was used to prevent political opponents from slandering each other in terms of their personal conduct – not to police political claims.
He added that if it was intended to deal with political quarrels, every candidate would require to take lie detector tests and truth serum.
Mr Dunlop said: “The 1983 Act is a limited derogation of powers from the default position whereby the conduct of MPs is regulated by Parliament.”
One clause from the 1983 Act Mr Mitchell is using refers to candidates smearing each other but is only applicable where the rival candidate is standing in the same constituency.
Mr Dunlop said: “The statutory provisions were introduced, for clear and good reason, to prevent the traducing of private character for political gain.”
He added: “They were not introduced to allow disappointed electors to pore over every utterance of an opponent in an attempt to unseat him.”
The hearing continues today.