Scotland politics

Alistair Carmichael loses legal fees bid after failed action

Alistair Carmichael Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Alistair Carmichael wanted the group which had brought the case to pay his legal bill

Lib Dem Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael has lost a bid to have his legal fees paid after a challenge to his election failed.

Four constituents raised the action under the Representation of the People Act 1983, claiming he misled voters over a leaked memo before the election.

Judges ruled in December it had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt he had committed an "illegal practice".

Mr Carmichael has now lost a claim that his legal expenses should be paid.

His expenses have been estimated at about £150,000.

A hearing took place at the Court of Session in Edinburgh to determine who should be responsible for costs.

Roddy Dunlop QC, acting for Mr Carmichael, argued it was "frankly inconceivable" that if the four petitioners had succeeded that they would not have sought expenses against the MP.

He added: "Mr Carmichael is not a rich man.

"To force him to endure this process which has been hugely distressing for him and his family, and deprive him of any redress when he successfully defends himself, it would not be in the interests of justice. It would not be fair.

"Mr Carmichael has already suffered very publicly the consequences of this court's rebuke."

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.

Image caption The case centred around a Daily Telegraph article

After hearing legal arguments from both sides, Lady Paton said: "In all the circumstances, exercising our discretion, we consider this to be in effect a case with divided success.

"Accordingly, we find no expenses due to or by any party."

At the time of the original ruling last year, Mr Carmichael said he was "absolutely delighted" with the decision to refuse the petition, adding that he recognised there had been a lapse in his conduct.

He described it as a "highly politically-motivated" case.

The contents of the memo, published in the Daily Telegraph at the start of the election campaign in April, claimed that SNP leader and Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, would secretly prefer Tory leader David Cameron as prime minister rather than his Labour opponent Ed Miliband.

The newspaper said the first minister's comments, reportedly made to the French ambassador, undermined claims that she wanted to build a "progressive alliance" with other left-wing parties.

Both the first minister and the ambassador insisted she had not made the comments, and the memo had contained a disclaimer that parts of the conversation may have been "lost in translation".

Mr Carmichael claimed in a Channel 4 TV interview at the time that the first he had heard of it was when he received a phone call from a reporter.

He had in fact authorised his special advisor to leak the memo, an action he admitted days after being elected.

In the ruling, Lady Paton said Mr Carmichael had told a "blatant lie" in the Channel 4 interview - but that section 106 of the Representation of the People Act did not apply to lies in general.

The judges said they had been left with a "reasonable doubt" about whether the lie could be characterised as a false statement of fact "in relation to [his] personal character or conduct".

They held that his election was not void.

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