++ BREAKING: Carmichael election stands – petition refused

My anxiety-meter was at maximum this morning. I was pretty much at the throwing up stage first thing. I will be eternally grateful to the person who put me out of my misery as soon as they knew that the petition to overturn Alistair Carmichael’s election had been thrown out.

If I was that worried, what on earth must the last seven months have been like for Alistair and his family? On the face of it, the petition looked as if it had no basis in law, but legal proceedings are uncertain, expensive and incredibly stressful. Even the smallest of small claims can be tough to get through and this was a high profile national case.

I’ve known Alistair for a long time and he’s one of the most decent, honourable, liberal, tolerant people I know. He’s spent his life standing up for the powerless, for human rights, against the death penalty, for freedom and civil liberties. It’s been hard to see him and his family being put through this case on the basis of one mistake which was nothing to do with the election in Orkney and Shetland. 

You can read the whole judgement in this case here.

The conclusion was:

Accordingly we are not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the words used by the first respondent amounted to a ‘false statement of fact in relation to [his] personal character or conduct’. It follows that we are not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an essential element of section 106 has been proved. Even if we were to apply a lesser standard of proof (i.e. the civil standard of ‘on a balance of probabilities’), we would not be satisfied that the first respondent has been proved to have made a ‘false statement of fact in relation to [his] personal character or conduct’ in the course of the Channel 4 news interview…

Noon update: The full judgement is now available here.

We’ll update with reaction throughout the day.

It would be remiss not to include the front page of today’s The National, Scotland’s pro-independence daily, where they’ve been getting busy with the photoshop:

Natonal Carmichael front page

Carmichael, Rennie and Farron react

“Honour and privilege to be Orkney & Shetland MP”

Alistair Carmichael thanked people for the “tremendous levels of support” which have “sustained” him and his family:

I am pleased with the decision of the court.

Although I was always confident of winning the last few months have been a difficult and stressful time for me and my family.

We have been enormously grateful for the tremendous levels of support received from local people, in both Orkney and Shetland, regardless of which political party they normally support.

This support has sustained us and we are very thankful for it.

I should also like to thank my legal team, especially Rosie Walker and her colleagues at Gilson Gray who have been professional and caring throughout.

This case was politically motivated. It was a deliberate attempt by nationalists to remove the last Scottish Liberal voice at Westminster, and is a mark of the unhealthy polarisation of Scottish politics since the referendum.

I shall continue to represent Orkney and Shetland as a Member of Parliament to the best of my ability, as I have done for the past 14 years.

These are very special communities, and it is where my wife and I have made our home and where we are bringing up our family. The interests of the Northern Isles have always been, and always will be my first priority. It remains an honour and a privilege to be their Member of Parliament.

“Incredibly strong voice for Orkney and Shetland” – Farron

Tim Farron said:

This was the right outcome and Alistair’s focus will remain on delivering for the people of Orkney and Shetland in Parliament.

Since the election, despite the distraction of the case, Alistair has continued to be an incredibly strong voice for Orkney and Shetland.

He has done a huge amount for the Northern Isles over his time in Parliament and will continue to work to the best of his abilities.

“Politically motivated” – Rennie

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Willie Rennie said:

The Scottish judicial system has vindicated Alistair’s election as MP for Orkney and Shetland. In the face of this politically motivated and often ugly legal campaign it has been a difficult time for Alistair, his family and his friends. But it is now over.

His top priority now, as it always has been, is doing what he does best; standing up for the people of Orkney and Shetland and being a strong Scottish liberal voice in Parliament.

 

Comments on this post will be pre-moderated.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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48 Comments

  • nigel hunter 9th Dec '15 - 10:44am

    Great news. We can now move on as a campaigning party without having to look over our backs.

  • James Moore 9th Dec '15 - 10:55am

    Great news! No by-election there. Can’t say the same for those two SNP MPs who have had to resign the whip though…

  • Congratulations to Alistair and his legal team, this must be a huge relief. And it’s no deep analysis that a by-election in Orkney and Shetland would have been very difficult. I think the right decision overall.

    However, the legal judgement is scant consolation – the court was satisfied that Alistair had lied, and only found reasonable doubt because it did not relate to his conduct and character – if he’d said “I never lie” or “I never leak” previously, it’s implied the verdict would have been different.

    I am still uneasy about him having the Home Affairs portfolio – in honesty if it was up to me, I think some time focussing on his constituency work would benefit both him and the party in the long term. We have to be the honest outsiders challenging the big 2 (big 3 in Scotland) and this whole episode undermines that. But I recognise this is a minority view, and that today is a day for relief.

  • Hopefully the end of it – although Guardian reporting he will try to recover costs so might drag on a bit. Not great to have a ‘liar’ as one of our only 8 MPs and think maybe Tim’s comments should have been more circumspect (as, to be fair, Carmichael’s were around the time of the lie becoming apparent). That said these are minor quibbles on what is good news!

  • Peter Watson 9th Dec '15 - 12:16pm

    “he’s one of the most decent, honourable, liberal, tolerant people I know”
    Perhaps, but does this court ruling mean that in future election campaigns political opponents of Carmichael and the Lib Dems may now refer to him as a “liar” with impunity?
    The association of that label with the Lib Dems, along with the old-fashioned politics of leaking and false denials that Carmichael pursued clumsily in this instance, can only be damaging regardless of any good things that he has done in the past.
    Much as Lib Dems might like to draw a line under this, I cannot imagine that other parties on both sides of the border will allow that to happen as long as Carmichael is a senior and respected figure in the party.

  • Dr Graham J Cambray 9th Dec '15 - 12:47pm

    This man admitted lying. And Tim Farron is happy having MPs who tell ‘blatant lies’?

    This is not going to help Farron’s attempts to revive the LibDem’s fortunes, is it?

    I voted Liberal and LibDem for over 40 years – but not at the 2015 election. Farron’s unequivocal support for Carmichael is not going to encourage me – or others – to return to the fold. A sad day for the LibDems.

  • the problem is that there is an election next May. The SNP have plenty of resources and are far ahead in many seats. They can afford to concentrate on the islands. One of the petitioners was a Green and they are fighting for list places. The word liar is going to be bandied around.

    The leak was a bad idea and wasn’t going to harm the SNP but it has rebounded on the Lib Dems. Using government phones to leak the info was stupid.

  • “are not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the words used by the first respondent amounted to a ‘false statement of fact in relation to [his] personal character or conduct’. It follows that we are not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an essential element of section 106 has been proved.” beyond reasonable doubt is hardly clearing him, it is more of a not proven. There is still a parliamentary investigation to take place.

    The real winners here are the Greens. The two lib dem Msp in the islands were going to have difficulty keeping their seats anyway but the three list seats are a target for the Greens.

  • Thank goodness. The Lib Dems can now concentrate on attempting to salvage something from the forthcoming Scottish Elections. Prehaps the mocking constantly of Corbyn may have rang a few bells with voters and maybe Anti Sturgeon voters may cross over to the Lib Dems. Maybe the fight back stats here.

  • John Barrett 9th Dec '15 - 6:26pm

    Am delighted at the result and hope Alistair, Kate and the boys can now enjoy Christmas.

    Some time ago I predicted this result, on the grounds that any other conclusion would leave every future parliamentary result open to challenge in the courts, by anyone with the resources to do so.

    If in the future there are genuine cases (unlike this one) where the actions of a candidate do result in a result which should be overturned it cannot be right that it should take possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds to do so.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Dec '15 - 8:08pm

    Tim,

    The lie is not news. Everyone knew about that in May. I think that some people are presenting this judgement as some great revelation when it simply isn’t. Alistair acknowledged and apologised for that lapse in May. What was determined today is that the lapse that we already knew about did not breach the Representation of the People Act and therefore the election result stands. That wasn’t even close. It didn’t even meet the balance of probabilities let alone beyond reasonable doubt.

    It seemed obvious from the start, to be honest, that this would be how it would end up.

  • Peter Watson 9th Dec '15 - 8:39pm

    @Caron Lindsay “The lie is not news. … Alistair acknowledged and apologised for that lapse in May.”
    Can we expect to see you take a softer approach to the SNP (and Scottish Labour) in future, forgiving the misbehaviour of other politicians as “lapses”?

  • Peter Watson 9th Dec '15 - 8:57pm

    For me, in so many ways, the most disappointing aspect of this episode (and a number of others over the last few years), is that the Lib Dems appear to be just another party with nothing special to offer. Defending leaking and lying as acceptable parts of realpolitik, using weasel words to justify u-turns and broken pledges, this all contributes to the cynicism and lack of trust that creates a political vacuum that Scottish nationalists, UKIP and Corbyn’s supporters rush to fill. It is so sad that the Lib Dems now look as morally bankrupt as the Tories and old/new Labour.
    In May 2010, “no more broken promises” and “a new kind of politics” inspired and offered so much, and what has happened since then is simply heart-breaking.

  • I can do no better than quote a UK-supporting friend of mine from earlier today:-

    “Complaining that the case was politically motivated when you’ve already admitted to the politically motivated lying that started the whole shitstorm is almost impressively shameless.”

    I think that’s absolutely correct and, as such, both Alistair and Willie’s statements have the air of hypocrisy about them. Alistair’s, in particular, should have been considerably more contrite and contained more evidence of a healthy dose of humble pie.

    @Caron – I think it was extremely close. It’s perfectly clear that an alternative form of words could easily have seen him lose his seat. 2 of the 3 conditions that were required to be met were found to be so by the ruling.

    @John – if this wasn’t a “genuine case” why was it not flung out at an earlier stage? It was “genuine” enough that the proceeding went the length that they did.

    As things stand, our candidates next May can expect this to be flung in their faces regardless of where they are standing. That may yet provide to be a crucial factor in holding, never mind gaining, seats.

    I think we certainly need to start by thinking about how this has failed the standards we think we like to set (and, in this regard, Peter Watson’s comments are very apposite) rather than acting like spoilt children because someone is making political capital out of our own misdeeds.

  • Peter Watson
    The realities of power I am afraid. The Liberals were long out of office and the inexperience has shown. There have been some painful lessons but Liberalism is still the answer. Reform and economic progress are greatly needed and they won’t be delivered by others.

  • One Tory source close to the Scotland Office told someone, “the Tories are keen to devolve power down and out while Labour don’t trust people to make decisions about their own lives”, and denies that there is any “irony” about the SNP finding it easier negotiating with Tories than with Labour.

  • John Barrett 10th Dec '15 - 9:03am

    Allan – the reason this was not a genuine case is that the substance of what was, or was not, said at the ‘Ambassador’s reception’ pales into insignificance compared to the steady stream of what have now been proven to be lies by the SNP media machine over the last few years. For this leak and what followed to be the reason for overturning the election result would have been madness, had it succeeded

    The reason it dragged out for so long says more about the legal system and the fees involved rather than the search for justice. Three sensible men or women in a room could have arrived at a fair and reasonable conclusion in an afternoon and could well have concluded that the entire saga was nonsense.

    Don’t be surprised if in the years to come Nicola, or someone close when writing their memoirs, reveals that she did in fact prefer a Conservative Government to be elected at the General Election – regardless of whether or not she said it at the time.

  • Richard MacKinnon 10th Dec '15 - 11:43am

    The Lib Dems made a decision to stick by Alistair Carmichael after he admitted his ‘mistake’. The reason I suspect was that his Orkney and Shetland seat was the Lib Dems last Westminster seat in Scotland. I suspect too that Carmichael must have considered resignation when the facts came out. I can only speculate that he was persuaded to ‘see it through’. What is not in doubt is that the last few months must have been hellish for the man to bare. The next few years will not be any better. He is fatally damaged on his on admission.
    The question now is, was it worth it? Has the collateral damage suffered by the Lib Dem movement been worth protecting a totem MP? This is not for me to answer as I am not a Lib Dem supporter, but I will say this, I have followed Scottish politics since the days when Jo Grimond represented Scotland and The Orkneys and Shetlands with distinction. This whole sorry debacle besmirches that image. How far it will resonate only time will tell.

  • John Barrett 10th Dec '15 - 12:04pm

    It is also worth noting that while the SNP are up on their ‘high horse’ today about Alistair’s case, their Scottish Transport Minister has just admitted lying about the cancelling of repairs to the Forth Road Bridge. The bridge closure is now affecting tens of thousands of people and costing millions of pounds and much grief in the run up to Christmas.

  • “The lie is not news. … Alistair acknowledged and apologised for that lapse in May.”

    There is a right and a wrong way to make a credible apology. Chris Rennard showed us a textbook example of how to make your apology non-credible. Here is a parallel textbook example of how not to do it, this time from Carmichael:

    “This case was politically motivated. It was a deliberate attempt by nationalists to remove the last Scottish Liberal voice at Westminster, and is a mark of the unhealthy polarisation of Scottish politics since the referendum.”

    Here is how to make things worse with bombast and contemptible triumphalism (Willie Rennie):
    “The Scottish judicial system has vindicated Alistair’s election as MP for Orkney and Shetland. In the face of this politically motivated and often ugly legal campaign”

    Here is how to draw a line under the issue and move on with as much dignity as can be rescued (Tim Farron):
    “This was the right outcome and Alistair’s focus will remain on delivering for the people of Orkney and Shetland in Parliament.”

  • Allan Heron 10th Dec '15 - 1:18pm

    @John The court case hinged on Alistair’s lie, and not the veracity of the contents of the leaked document.

    Had he given (as he undoubtedly should) a more guarded and detail free response there would have been no case, never mind no case to answer.

    And to add to the hysteria from Nats about the iniquities of the British justice, you give what appears to be a mirror image on how the case was handled by the judges involved. If the case would have been settled quickly by “three sensible men or women” then what does that make the judges who agreed that it should proceed?

  • Allan Heron 10th Dec '15 - 1:21pm

    @David. Your analysis of the three responses is absolutely spot on

  • Peter Watson 10th Dec '15 - 1:49pm

    @John Barrett “their Scottish Transport Minister has just admitted lying about the cancelling of repairs to the Forth Road Bridge”
    Shouldn’t that be “lapsing” about cancelling the repairs? 😉

  • @johnbarrett

    Just for the record , the Scottish Transport Minister has not admitted to “lying” or even lapsing.

  • Tim Morrison
    The judges said could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt .
    However the remarks were not about another candidate in the general election which is the basis of this law.
    ***
    If the memo was false in the first instance, why was it written? If it was mostly true was something lost in translation as I assume French was being spoken.
    The moral of the story is beware of the Pooh traps!

  • Graham Evans 11th Dec '15 - 10:14am

    What I find so disturbing about this case is not whether Carmichael leaked the memo, or even lied about doing so,, but the accuracy of the memo itself. These types of memo are supposed to be accurate records of important discussions, irrespective of what language they are conducted in. How can we trust the accuracy of any similar documents when it is clear that the writer of the memo made no effort to check with the participants the accuracy of what was recorded?

  • I agree with Peter Watson.

  • @Manfarang The judges agreed that a candidate could impugn their own character. It was considered that whilst he had lied he had not impugned his own character. For example, had he said something like “I would never tell a lie” in relation this he’d have lost the case.

    The memo wasn’t false. It reported a conversation at second or third hand and expressed doubts about the accuracy of the information. What was false was the Telegraph’s reporting of it which was over the top.

    A question to be asked if how anyone thought it was sufficiently damaging to be worth leaking. Or that the Telegraph (no friends of ours) were a suitable recipient.

  • John Barrett 11th Dec '15 - 6:35pm

    One wonders whether the Orkney Four would have gone over everything said during the campaign by Danus Skene, the SNP candidate , if he had beaten Alistair in the May election. What he has said about himself the Liberal Democrats, or the SNP over the years and during the campaign would make interesting reading.

    Many older party members, like me, will remember Danus, when he was a Liberal Councillor, he was also a Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate. At the time, I was unaware that before that he had been an active member of the Labour Party and then, when he left them, he was a founder member of the SLP (Scottish Labour Party). His membership of the SNP is no doubt genuine now – but it looks like that will be the fifth party he has been a members of.

    If the Orkney Four are as non-political as they say, I am sure they will have been as equally determined to go over everything the SNP candidate said before and during the election campaign and will have given Danus’s track record the all clear……or maybe not?

  • Tim Morrison
    “Orkney and Shetland by-election”It was not, it was a general election.
    Your statement above is false the rest of what you say is largely inaccurate.

  • John Barrett 12th Dec '15 - 12:33pm

    What a complete waste of money.

    Wealthy Edinburgh lawyers will be having an extra drink (or two) this Christmas, thanks to this case. No doubt they will also do well if or when my own MP here in Edinburgh West ends up in court.

    Unfortunately buying property at below market value from vulnerable people and selling it on later in the same day to a partner is not actually a crime and therefore not something the police are interested in. The court of public opinion will have to be the judge on that one.

    At this time of year many ‘normal’ people will be thinking of the many other far more important things the money spent in legal fees might have been spent on.

    No more comments from me this year.

    Merry Christmas to everyone.

  • Andrew McCaig 12th Dec '15 - 4:34pm

    @Tim Morrison,

    “There is no doubt that the memo contents were untrue” Do you really think that? Nicola Sturgeon and the French Ambassador say it is untrue… Some unfortunate unknown person originated the information, which was later put into the memo.

    Whilst Nicola Sturgeon and the French Ambassador are much more influential people than the unfortunate unknown person, I am not so foolish as to think them incapable of lying. It would certainly have been in their political interest to lie, just as it was objectively in the interests of the SNP for the Tories to win the election, since the EU vote alone greatly increases the chances of another referendum and independence.. I would like to hear from the person who originated the story before judging the truth of the memo.

    Alistair Carmichael says it was the memo was untrue, but frankly he has no way of knowing. Form said that he had to say that when he apologised for allowing the leak and voluntarily gave up a large sum of money.

    The one place where you are undoubtedly correct is that Alistair Carmichael lied when he denied leaking the memo. I happen to agree that he would have been sensible to resign and fight a by-election himself. However that lie did not physically or mentally harm anyone. Certainly it did not harm the SNP cause materially – one more MP would hardly make a difference – indeed, the opposite, since whatever the political views of you and the other petitioners, I have no doubt the SNP will be using this issue in leaflets.

    However I think that ” buying property at below market value from vulnerable people and selling it on later in the same day to a partner” would actually (if proven) be a MUCH WORSE thing to do than what Alistair Carmichael did. Do you agree?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 12th Dec '15 - 5:42pm

    @Tim: You keep going on about this wrongdoing that the court case proved. That would be exactly the same wrongdoing that Alistair admitted to, apologised for and gave up his severance pay for. You have dragged him through the courts on a wild goose chase for seven months, putting him and his family through the stress of worrying that they might lose their home. There was no prospect that the petition was going to succeed. On the crucial point, it didn’t even make the balance of probabilities, let alone beyond reasonable doubt.

    Yes, I was angry with Alistair for putting himself and the party in this position, but it seems very much like you and a whole legion of cybernats are more interested in vengeance than justice. You’ve put Alistair and his family through a hell that is way disproportionate to the original offence. You should now just back off and leave him alone.

    I have asked myself what I’d have done if Alistair had been in another party. I’d have looked a bit into his background and seen that he had a good solid record as a constituency MP and that this event seemed well and truly out of character. I’d have noted that he was always one to stand up for the powerless, that he’d campaigned internationally against the death penalty, of his solid work as a good constituency MP. I’d probably have thought, “Oh well, I’ll keep an eye on you, but you can have the benefit of the doubt right now.” And if you have any doubt on that, have a look back through my blog and you’ll find that I’ve stood up for various people in other parties when they’ve got themselves into trouble. The only person I’ve ever called for to go was Bill Walker, after his conviction and that was hardly controversial.

    What I wouldn’t have done is get together a whole load of folk on the internet and dragged him through the courts. I’ve had some poor MPs in my time – Jim Devine, for one, who ended up in jail for expenses fraud. You have a really good one, one of the most decent, most compassionate and kindest people I’ve ever known. His brain and gob lost their connection for 20 seconds. That doesn’t wipe out 15 years of strong, liberal, humanitarian public service.

  • John Barrett 12th Dec '15 - 7:05pm

    Andrew – The issue about buying property and selling it on the same day is not something that is being investigated by anyone as it is a fact and is detailed in the Law Society disciplinary tribunal report, which struck off my MP’s solicitor.

    The point I was making is that the reason it is not waiting to be proven in order to satisfy the police, is because that behaviour is not a crime and the police are therefore not involved.

    The SNP and others who are on their high moral horses are however using the excuse that because other matters are currently being investigated by the police, they will not comment on the facts already detailed in the report I referred to. The longer the police take to conclude their investigation or make their findings public, the longer the smokescreen will last.

    If any charges follow, the person being investigated is now an Independent MP and is not sitting as a member of the SNP Parliamentary group, so no doubt they will not want to say any more about it…… before next May.

    In my previous post, I promised that it would be my last comment before Christmas. Using the Orkney Four’s language, that makes me a liar. Just maybe everyone has told a lie at sometime. When my small grand-daughter asks me about Santa, what am I to say?

    It’s a good thing I am no longer an MP.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 13th Dec '15 - 6:10pm

    @Tim Morrison: “he is going to pursue us for costs”

    Isn’t that what happens at the conclusion of a court case? The unsuccessful party pays the other party’s costs? Are you saying that you wouldn’t have pursued him for your costs had you won the case? At least you have the backing of all your crowd funders who I’m sure will be persuaded to give a little bit more to help you out.

    I saw a discussion on Twitter this week shared by Jamie Halcro Johnston between known nationalist sympathisers. including Lesley Riddoch in which they were discussing the idea of a crowd-funder and trying to get Yes Orkney and Shetland people involved. If those tweets are genuine, I don’t think Alistair is far off the mark. Here they are. https://twitter.com/jhalcrojohnston/status/675056438134374400

    “I would feel more sympathy for him if we had not been insulted, traduced and threatened”

    By whom? And I suspect anything aimed at you is nothing compared to the bile aimed at Alistair over the last 7 months.

    And can you give examples of threats you have received? If you cannot substantiate that, perhaps you would care to withdraw it.

  • Peter Watson 13th Dec '15 - 6:55pm

    It seems to be accepted by all sides that Carmichael did something wrong, then lied about it, and owned up only after he was caught out and when he judged that the political consequences were negligible.
    In a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper asked, “Is this one of those times where I’ve won the battle but lost the war?”. The same could be asked about this incident.
    The Lib Dems’ reputation for integrity has taken a bruising since 2010, and now party figures rush to defend and excuse the dishonest behaviour of one of their own. Far from drawing a line under the issue, this provides ammunition for opponents of the party in every election campaign from Orkney to Cornwall over the next few years. It risks destroying any opportunity to take the moral high ground when SNP, Conservative or Labour politicians “lapse” and “make mistakes”, making it harder to hold to account those in government on both sides of the border.
    A battle may have been won here, but what of the war?

  • Andrew McCaig 14th Dec '15 - 6:24pm

    John Barrett,

    Merry Christmas! You need not comment again!

    The only reason I used the words “if proven” is that all the things I read referred to “person A”, not your MP.

    I notice that Tim Morrison has not answered my question about whether it is more reprehensible to a) deprive (on numerous occasions) ordinary people (perhaps now constituents) of a fair price for their house through dodgy property deals, while lining your own pocket, or b) to seek to cover up some leaks which only concerned political advantage (and some inconvenience to civil servants briefly investigated as leakers).

    The issue is not whether the MP for Edinburgh West is or is not a member of the SNP (she certainly was when she did the property deals for which her lawyer has been struck off, and as far as I know she sits and votes with the SNP group), but whether she should resign, and whether the SNP and people who vote for them like Tim Morrison should call for her to resign as they have Alistair Carmichael. People talk on this thread about the Lib Dem reputation for honesty (and as I said above, I think it would have been better for the Party if Alistair had fought a by-election on his reputation as a constituency MP). Why are the SNP apparently made of teflon??

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