Tory MPs should be suspended for trying to ‘improperly’ influence judge in ex-MP’s case, says watchdog

Five MPs breached code of conduct in seeking to influence trial of disgraced ex-MP Charlie Elphicke

Adam Forrest@adamtomforrest
Wednesday 21 July 2021 15:37
Today's daily politics briefing

A Commons watchdog has found five Conservative MPs breached the code of conduct and attempted to “improperly” influence legal proceedings related to their disgraced former colleague Charlie Elphicke.

Mr Elphicke, the former Tory MP for Dover, was jailed for two years in 2020 for sexually assaulting two women.

Natalie Elphicke, Sir Roger Gale, Adam Holloway, Bob Stewart and Theresa Villiers were all accused of seeking special treatment for Mr Elphicke after writing to senior judges using Commons stationery.

The Commons Committee on Standards said the letters sent by the MPs was “an attempt improperly to influence judicial proceedings” – finding they had all breached the code of conduct.

The committee recommended that three of the MPs – Ms Elphicke, Sir Roger and Ms Villiers – be suspended from the Commons for one day, while Mr Holloway and Mr Stewart should apologise to the House.

The standards watchdog’s report, released on Wednesday, added: “Such egregious behaviour is corrosive to the rule of law and, if allowed to continue unchecked, could undermine public trust in the independence of judges.”

The committee’s findings followed a probe by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone – who found that “by privately requesting the intervention of two senior judges” the five MPs “had attempted to interfere in a judicial process”.

The five MPs sent a letter in November 2020, using House-provided stationery, to senior members of the judiciary raising concerns that a more junior judge was considering publishing character references provided for Mr Elphicke.

It was also copied to Ms Justice Whipple, who had heard the trial of Mr Elphicke, and was to hear and decide on an application to release the pre-sentencing character references.

The MPs’ behaviour was found to have “caused significant damage to the reputation and integrity” of the House of Commons.

Of the three recommended for suspension, two had “substantial legal experience” while the third, Sir Roger, is both the longest standing of the group and “still does not accept his mistake”, the report said.

Labour had previously accused the group of five MPs of seeking special treatment for Mr Elphicke.

Thangam Debbonaire MP, Labour’s shadow Commons leader, said: “The report today into the conduct of a gang of Conservative MPs once again shows that the government and their MPs think it is one rule for them and another for everyone else.”

Mr Elphicke was given a two-year prison sentence in 2020 after he was convicted of three sexual assaults on two younger women.

Ms Elphicke won the Dover constituency for the Conservatives at the 2019 general election after her estranged husband had stepped down.

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