Six Conservative politicians have been condemned by the head of the judiciary for trying to influence a judge overseeing a hearing in the sexual assault case of “naughty Tory” MP Charlie Elphicke.
A Conservative peer and five MPs – including ex-minister Theresa Villiers and Elphicke’s estranged wife Natalie – wrote to top judges urging them to prevent the public release of character references used during his sentencing.
Former Dover MP Elphicke, 49, was jailed for two years in September, after he was found guilty of three sexual assaults on two younger women.
The group of Tory parliamentarians had written to top legal officials raising concerns about whether the 34 character references written in support of Elphicke should be released, claiming some could suffer “serious anxiety” should their names be made public.
But the office of the Lord Chief Justice described their actions as “improper”, and lashed out at the group for seeking to influence the decision of a judge.
According to The Times, Ben Yallop – the private secretary to Lord Burnett of Maldon – wrote: “It is all the more regrettable when representatives of the legislature, writing as such on House of Commons notepaper, seek to influence a judge in a private letter and do so without regard for the separation of powers or the independence of the judiciary.
“It is equally improper to suggest that senior judges should in some way intervene to influence the decision of another judge. The independence of the judges extends to being free from interference by judicial colleagues or superiors in their decision-making.
“Judges must be free to make their decision independently of pressure or influence from all, including legislators.”
Alongside Villiers – who was, until earlier this year, Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs – Tory MPs Bob Stewart, Sir Roger Gale, Adam Holloway, Natalie Elphicke and peer Lord David Freud penned letters.
An application is being made by the Guardian, Times and Associated Newspapers for release of the letters, in cases where the author is a public figure.
Earlier this year it emerged that Elphicke declared himself a “naughty Tory”, as he chased a victim around his central London family home in 2007 – after groping her while they shared a bottle of wine.
He was also found to have groped a parliamentary worker in her early 20s – with whom he claimed to be “besotted” – while MP for Dover in 2016.
Elphicke was replaced as the member for Dover by his wife, Natalie, in last year’s general election.