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FIVE Tories breached the code of parliamentary conduct over an “egregious” attempt to influence legal proceedings against a former Conservative MP, a standards committee found today.
Theresa Villiers, Natalie Elphicke, Sir Roger Gale, Adam Holloway and Bob Stewart sought to interfere in a decision regarding ex-Dover MP Charlie Elphicke, who was convicted of sex offences in July 2020, the Commons standards committee ruled.
It recommended that former environment secretary Ms Villiers, senior Tory Sir Roger, and Ms Elphicke – current Dover MP and Mr Elphicke’s estranged wife – be suspended from the House of Commons for one day, while all five were told to apologise.
The finding came after they wrote to senior presiding judge Lady Justice Thirlwall and Queen’s Bench Division president Dame Victoria Sharp in November, asking them to consider issues raised by the potential release of character references provided for Mr Elphicke.
Written on taxpayer-funded Commons notepaper, the letter was also copied to Ms Justice Whipple, who had heard the case and was deciding whether to release the references.
The committee stressed that improper attempts to influence independent judicial proceedings are “corrosive to the rule of law and, if allowed to continue unchecked, could undermine public trust in the independence of judges.”
All five were ordered to apologise to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, as well as to the Commons. Tory peer Lord Freud has already done so after having also been found to have breached the code of conduct.
Ms Elphicke did apologise but added that she was “solely motivated by my duty to represent my constituents who had raised serious concerns” about the publication of the character references, agreed to by Justice Whipple in December.
Ms Villiers’s spokesman accepted the committee’s findings and said she “deeply regrets” signing the letter, while Sir Roger declined to comment.
Mr Elphicke was jailed for two years after being convicted of three counts of assault against two women. One of them said he had asked her about bondage, then kissed her and groped her breast before chasing her around his home, chanting: “I’m a naughty Tory.”
After his conviction, Ms Elphicke, a parliamentary private secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, announced that the couple had separated after 25 years of marriage.
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