Former North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson speaks about his suspension for the first time
Former North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson has spoken for the first time about his suspension from the House of Commons which led to his resignation.
Through a statement issued by his legal team the former Northern Ireland and Environment minister says he is completely innocent of any charge of lobbying.
His decision to go to the European Court of Human Rights to clear his name, labelled hypocrisy by his opponents, was made, the statement says because there is no UK mechanism to seek justice.
Lawyer, Philip Barden from the firm, Devonshires, said that in October last year, Mr Paterson was found by the House of Commons Committee on Standards to have, in the Committee’s words, “used his privileged position as a Member of Parliament to secure benefits for two companies for whom he was a paid consultant". The Committee described Mr Paterson’s alleged actions as “an egregious case of paid advocacy.”
Mr Barden said: "Mr Paterson did not engage in lobbying, nor did he use his position as a Member of Parliament to secure benefits for any company. He is completely innocent of any charge of lobbying."
The statement says that the former MP Paterson was supported by statements from no fewer than 17 witnesses.
"The committee refused to call any of those witnesses. In fact, other than Mr Paterson’s own testimony, no witnesses or evidence were produced and thus the Committee’s conclusions could not reasonably and fairly have been reached. Indeed, the uncontested witness statements supporting Mr Paterson must be deemed in law to stand, they have to be accepted as fact. There is no doubt that Mr Paterson was, and remains, completely innocent."
He said it was clear that the Commissioner for Standards breached those principles – its own terms of reference - in many ways, going so far as to confirm in writing that she had decided that Mr Paterson was ‘guilty’ before she had even spoken to him.
Mr Barden said it was a fundamental requirement of natural justice that the role of investigator, prosecutor and adjudicator are quite separate, and must be performed by different individuals.
"In our client’s case, the Commissioner performed all three roles, with the Committee on Standards wrongly imagining that it was acting merely as an appellate body. The reality is that there is no appeal mechanism, nor any way within the system of challenging what has occurred."
The former MP has been criticised for going to the European court - as a Brexiteer and ardent supporter of the UK leaving the European court.
Mr Barden said: "Sadly, there is no UK mechanism through which justice for Mr Paterson can be sought. The Committee is protected by parliamentary privilege which, on no fewer than three occasions, it has refused to waive in order to allow Mr Paterson to seek justice from the
courts. Mr Paterson, on the other hand, made clear that he was himself prepared to waive parliamentary privilege."
"Our client is, therefore, resolved to clear his own name by the only appeal mechanism which is available to him, which is the European Court of Human Rights. So, on his behalf we have applied to the European Court of Human Rights. We hope that the UK Government will now address the merits of the case.
"The irony that Mr Paterson, a vocal opponent of European institutions, should be seeking the help of the ECHR is not lost. But he has no other choice, as the Government has yet to meet its promise of repatriating human rights law to Britain, hence the application to Strasbourg."
He said that the principles of natural justice are not observed by the workings of the House of Commons Committee on Standards, was confirmed earlier this year in an independent report by Rt Hon Sir Ernest Ryder, formerly Lord Justice of Appeal.
" It is now widely accepted that there is a need for a fundamental review of procedures. In the meantime, though, our client and his reputation have been severely damaged by a system which has no means of appeal and no recourse."