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A parliamentary standards committee has recommended that three Tory MPs should be suspended from the Commons for a day after it was concluded they tried to “improperly influence judicial proceedings” around the trial of a former MP.
It was also recommended that two more Conservative MPs should apologise to the House after they all wrote letters to the judges presiding over the decision to release character references submitted in Charlie Elphicke’s sexual assault case.
The former MP for Dover was jailed for two years in September last year after being found guilty of three counts of sexual assault. He faced one charge relating to an incident with a woman in her 30s at his home dating back to 2007, and two charges relating to a parliamentary aide in her early 20s from 2016.
In November, five current members of Parliament; Natalie Elphicke, Sir Roger Gale, Adam Holloway, Bob Stewart, and Theresa Villiers, wrote on House-provided stationery to Dame Kathryn Thirwall and Dame Victoria Sharp arguing that disclosing pre-sentencing references would be a “radical change to judicial practice” which could have a “chilling effect”.
The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales informed the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, who begun an investigation into whether the MPs had breached the code of conduct.
She concluded that “by privately requesting the intervention of two senior judges, and then following the letter with further correspondence, the five members had attempted to interfere in a judicial process”.
The standards committee agreed, and said while there is no suggestion they actually influenced the outcome of the hearing, the fact they sought to do so “risked giving the impression that elected politicians can bring influence to bear on the judiciary, out of public view and in a way not open to others”.
The report 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, which includes MPs from across the parties as well as lay members, ruled in sending their letters the MPs “undertook an action which caused significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons”.
They recommend that Elphicke, Gale and Villiers be suspended from the Commons for one sitting day, and should apologise to the House in writing, while Holloway and Stewart should apologise by means of a personal statement in the chamber.
All five should also apologise to the Lord Chief Justice, say the committee, who added that although they all acted in unison, it “has only imposed a single day’s suspension on the two members who had substantial legal experience, and the one member, of longest standing in the House, who still does not accept his mistake; all three of whom should have known better”.
A Tory peer who also signed the letter was investigated separately by the Lords Commissioner for Standards, and was ordered to apologise for a breach of the code of conduct back in February.
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