Mrs Natalie Elphicke, Sir Roger Gale, Adam Holloway, Bob Stewart, Theresa Villiers Contents

Appendix 4: Letter dated 1 July 2021 from Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP to the Chair of the Committee

Strictly private and confidential

Dear Chris

I am writing following receipt of the memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards dated 25 June 2021 and the letter from Dr Robin James of the same date.

As you will see from paragraphs 82 to 95 of the Commissioner’s decision I had sight of a draft and made clear in a letter dated 18 June 2021 that I accept her decision. I have had also seen Mrs Elphicke’s letter and agree with the contents. I am very sorry for what has occurred.

Having had time to think about these matters carefully and to read and reflect upon the Commissioner’s draft report, I accept that the correspondence that was sent to senior judges, and which she found to be a breach of paragraphs 16 and 17 of the Code of Conduct for Members, was not appropriately drafted and it was wrong of us to send it. When concerns were raised by the Lord Chief Justice, we should have paused and retracted.

I take my share of responsibility for that and for the fact that we did not think through carefully enough what we wanted the letters to achieve.

I am pleased that the Commissioner has accepted that Mrs Elphicke was attempting to act in the best interests of her constituents and also that they had raised genuine concerns with her (paragraphs 92 and 93).

The Commissioner goes on to note that what was of concern to her was the appropriateness of the way that those concerns were conveyed to senior judges (paragraph 93). I accept that and agree.

As I explained to the Commissioner and wish to reiterate to the Committee, what we were trying to do in our approach to these matters was to achieve two outcomes which should have been kept rigorously separate:

Regrettably, we allowed the point we wished to make on general principles and their impact upon the criminal justice process to became entangled with the hearing of the Guardian’s application to the court. That confusion is reflected in the three items of correspondence which are the subject of this complaint. This was a serious mistake which has led to very grave consequences and I apologise sincerely for my part in it.

In considering the sanction to apply, I would ask the Committee to have regard to the following:

i)At no stage did we seek to excuse the behaviour of Charles Elphicke that led to his conviction. Pre-sentencing references are submitted to courts to assist them in determining sentence by providing information on the defendant’s past conduct. Nor did our correspondence ask for anything in relation to the references we had ourselves provided. We had already placed them in the public domain. The focus was on the general principles at stake and on securing fair treatment for members of the public who had provided references. Although the individuals in this case were not my constituents, I hope that Committee will recognise that MPs frequently do provide assistance to colleagues in highlighting matters directly concerning that other MP’s constituents. It is also the case that the general principle could have affected my constituents in the future if any of them were to be asked to write a pre-sentencing reference.

ii)We took a number of steps to try to ensure we approached this matter in the correct way. Regrettably, we did not succeed in that, but I hope these actions are an indication that we at least tried to act responsibly. This includes over a hundred changes to the early draft of the letter referred to by the Commissioner in her report; raising the issues of principle in the House at Business Questions; and responding immediately to the Lord Chief Justice try to reassure him about the 19th November letter (though I accept the Commissioner’s finding that, regrettably, the errors of our first item of correspondence were repeated in the second).

iii)The Commissioner acknowledges at paragraph 14 of her memorandum that the point of principle we raised on privacy and disclosure was an important one. She also accepts that the law in this area is not straight-forward (paragraph 89). Mrs Justice Whipple carried out a balancing exercise in her judgement assessing the weight of the different human rights principles which were engaged.

iv)A number of Mrs Elphicke’s constituents were suffering real distress and anxiety, as is shown by the redacted statements from them which she has provided to the Committee. The way we sought to help them was, as I have accepted, flawed and wrong, but we were well intentioned. We did want to help them.

v)I have co-operated fully at every stage of this process. I have accorded it the utmost seriousness and respect and I have accepted that our actions were wrong. In my years in Parliament, I have always sought to maintain the highest standards of diligence and propriety. I have sent many tens of thousands of letters and emails in that time and have always attempted to ensure that each one was correct and appropriate. I hope that very many of them will have helped secure important assistance for my constituents. So far as I am aware, this is the only time a complaint of impropriety has been made in relation to any of that correspondence. I deeply regret that in this instance the three letters I co-signed have not stood up to scrutiny. I will learn very serious lessons from what has happened and will do all I can never to make such a mistake ever again.

In conclusion, I deeply regret the errors made and I apologise.

Kind regards

Theresa

94 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/court-character-references-should-be-kept-private-vb7mlc52s




Published: 21 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement