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 letter sent by the members was “an attempt improperly to influence judicial proceedings” – finding they had all breached the code of conduct for MPs.
The committee recommended that three of the MPs – Ms Elphicke, Sir Roger and Ms Villiers – be suspended from the Commons for one day. It said Mr Holloway and Mr Stewart should apologise to the House.
Released on Wednesday, the standards watchdog’s 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’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 and believing they deserved to be heard differently – saying it was “one rule for Tory MPs 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 as a MP following charges.