Conservative peer Lord Freud found to have attempted to influence judges over sex assault MP’s case
A former Conservative minister attempted to influence judges over the case of an ex-Tory MP jailed for sexually assaulting two women, a parliamentary watchdog has found.
Lord Freud breached the code of conduct for peers over his actions linked to the trial of Charlie Elphicke, the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards ruled.
In November last year, Lord Freud was among a group of six parliamentarians – including five MPs – who wrote letters to top judges to argue against the release of character references from Elphicke’s case, which had been requested by The Guardian newspaper.
Two months earlier, Elphicke had been jailed for two years for sexually assaulting two women.
The disgraced politician was MP for Dover from 2010 until the 2019 general election, at which he was succeeded in the Kent constituency by his wife Natalie.
Lord Freud – a former welfare minister and the grandson of the famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud – along with the MPs wrote to Lady Justice Thirwall, senior presiding judge for England and Wales, and Dame Victoria Sharp, president of the Queen’s bench division.
They also later wrote to Mrs Justice Whipple, the judge who presided over Elphicke’s trial, to express their concerns about “the harm and distress that is being suffered by vulnerable members of the public who provided references”.
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the commissioner for standards, began an investigation into Lord Freud’s involvement in the letters following a complaint from a member of the public that the peer had breached parliamentary rules.
She ruled that “the only reasonable reading of that letter is that it was intended to persuade Lady Justice Thirlwall and Dame Victoria Sharp to intervene”.
“Similarly, the letter to Mrs Justice Whipple was written in terms intended to influence her thinking,” she added.
As a result, the commissioner found Lord Freud to have breached the House of Lords’ code of conduct “by failing to act on his personal honour”.
“I find that by being a signatory to the letters of 19 and 22 November 2020, Lord Freud failed to meet the standards of conduct expected of individual members,” she said.
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However, in her report, the commissioner recognised that Lord Freud “has readily admitted that being a signatory to the letters was a mistake and one which he now regrets”.
“I have also recognised that his motives in acting as he did were to assist members of the public involved rather than for any personal advantage,” her report added.
The commissioner revealed Lord Freud had agreed to make a formal apology in the House of Lords as an “appropriate outcome”.
Lord Freud previously advised Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s Labour governments but, in 2009, was recommended for a peerage by the Conservative Party and went on to serve as a minister in David Cameron’s government.
He helped to oversee the introduction of Universal Credit.
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