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News / MP to claim legal costs

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael. Photo: Shetland News

AS the dust settles on The People v Carmichael case, the question of who will pay the huge legal costs has come to the fore.

Northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael is applying to the court to have his £155,000 legal fees paid for by the petitioners who lost the case.

Carmichael was cleared by the two election judges of breaching the Representation of the Peoples Act by lying about leaking a memo during this year’s general election campaign.

However the court was critical of the MP, saying he had told a “blatant lie” for his own political advantage.

The petitioners, known as the Orkney Four, expect to pay £208,000 to cover their own legal costs.

Their crowdfunding appeal had generated more than £188,000 by Thursday night, an increase of almost £30,000 in the past few days.

Now Carmichael, a lawyer to trade, has said he is applying to the court to make the unsuccessful petitioners also pay his substantial legal costs.

Speaking on Thursday, the MP said it was normal for a court to award the winner of the case two thirds of his costs, which would still leave him more than £50,000 out of pocket.

“I am not from a wealthy family and I don’t have that kind of money,” he said, adding that he would have expected to be asked to pay the petitioners’ expenses had he lost.

Carmichael’s own crowdfunding campaign, launched in September, has so far generated more than £8,560.

Tim Morrison, one of the Orkney Four, said it was not guaranteed they would be required to pay Carmichael’s legal expenses, as the court had agreed they had been justified to take legal action against the MP.

“There was no hint whatsoever that we have done anything wrong taking this to court,” he said.

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Meanwhile money continues to pour into their own fundraising efforts, despite losing the legal action.

“I can see why you might think people would lose interest because we lost, but that hasn’t happened.

“From the comments we have seen, people are proud of what we have done and they don’t want to see us broken by it. That’s the impression I am getting.”

Morrison welcomed Carmichael’s own crowdfunding campaign, saying: “The costs of justice are incredibly huge and we don’t want him to be bankrupted.”

But he said it was laughable the MP was accusing them of running a politically-motivated, nationalist-inspired campaign to remove one of the last three remaining unionist MPs from Scotland.

“I am rather amazed that a man who told a lie, a deliberate falsehood, to get political benefits from it is accusing us of being politically motivated. It’s bordering on hilarious,” he said. “We just want honest politicians.”

Meanwhile Carmichael said that he now wanted to focus on representing the people of Shetland and Orkney at Westminster.

“I am getting on with the job, which will be easier to do now the case is no longer hanging over me,” he said.

To that effect, on Thursday the MP was quizzing UK transport secretary Patrick MacLoughlin about the future of the coastguard’s Orkney-based emergency towing vessel, whose contract ends next March.

Carmichael voiced concerns that the need for publicly-funded emergency cover was greater than ever since the oil price collapse and the downturn in offshore activity in the northern North Sea made it less likely the industry would be able to step in.

After the debate he said he had written to the chief executive of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency seeking an urgent meeting on the issue.

The MCA has said it will consult on the future of the contract shortly. 

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