Posts Tagged ‘Cable and Wireless’

Private Eye on Libel Judges and their Connection to the Tories

March 15, 2016

In their issue for the 2nd – 15th May 2014, Private Eye ran a piece on the way several prominent judges had been allowed to judge a libel case by the Tories against the Sunday Times exposing a lobbying scandal, when those judges were either themselves members of the Conservative party, or had close family members who were.

In the Courts
It’s a Family Affair

How many judges on the libel bench have family connections to the Tory party, and why don’t they declare them when hearing political cases?

The Eye asks because the libel action by former Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas against the Sunday Times is unearthing a family tree of judges’ brothers and sons who work for, stand for or give money to the Conservative party.

Cruddas sued after he med Jonathan Calvert and Heidi Blake, Sunday Times undercover reporters who were posing as agents of foreign financiers in 2012. The headline “Tory treasurer charges £250,000 to meet PM” followed their meeting.

Mr Justice Tugendhat hit the Sunday Times with a damning judgment. Blake had told the court she found it “quite shameful for the prime minister to tout himself to businesses who pay to have their photograph taken”. Tugendhat used her words to conclude that she had a motive to injure Cruddas.

The paper was guilty of libel and malicious falsehood for saying that Cruddas was a corrupt man, who offered opportunities to influence government policy through meetings with ministers in return for foreign donations, knowing that payment of the money would breach UK electoral law.

Tugendhat did not declare that his son, Tom Tugendhat, was committed Conservative, who has been selected to stand in Tonbridge and Malling, one of the safest Tory seats in the country. Nor did the judge mention that his brother, Christopher Tugendhat, is a Conservative peer and former MP. Nor did he declare that Michael Ashcroft, the former Tory chairman and a prominent supporter of Cruddas, had hired him when he was still a barrister and praised Tugendhat as “arguably the greatest legal expert in the country on privacy”.

The Sunday Times applied for the right to appeal. In November last year, Lady Justice Sharp refused to allow the application. The Sunday Times pressed on and asked for a hearing. Lady Sharp was due to hear the case last month, but just before it began, word spread among journalists and lawyers of Tugendhat’s family connections.

The day before the hearing, Lady Sharp contacted the paper and said it may want to know that, like Tugendhat, she also had a brother who was a prominent Conservative.

And so she does. Richard Sharp is a former head of private equity for Goldman Sachs. He is on the board of a right-wing think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, which campaigns against a mansion tax for wealthy homeowners and in favour of zero-hours contracts for poor workers.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal estimated that Richard Sharp’s personal fortune was £90m. Sharp has personally donated tens of thousands to the Tory party and Tory politicians. Sharp has personally donated tens of thousands to the Tory party and Tory politicians. In 2007, he moved from Goldman Sachs to chair the lobbying and PR firm Huntsworth Plc, which also donates to the Tory party.

The chancellor, George Osborne, appointed Sharp to the Bank of England’s financial policy committee in 2013. Baroness Sarah Hogg was the Treasury’s representative at his interview. She is the wife of Douglas Hogg, a Tory MP, and was an adviser to Ken Clarke when he was Tory chancellor. Sharp is the first committee member in the Bank of England’s history to have been a party donor.

Richard Sharp and Dame Justice Sharp’s father was Eric Sharp, whom Keith Joseph, the then Conservative industry secretary, appointed as chairman of the newly privatised Cable and Wireless in 1980. The Thatcher government gave him a peerage in 1989.

Offering advice on when judges should stand down (“recuse themselves”) because of conflicts of interest, the appeal court said in 2006 that “if in any case there is real ground for doubt, that doubt should be resolved in favour of recusal”.

At the last minute, Sharp offered to stand down after she had already heard one appeal, an offer the Sunday Times gratefully acceped. Mr Justice Tugendhat never offered to stand down, and did not tell the Sunday Times about his family connections. No doubt he didn’t think he needed to under the law as it stands-which explains why many feel the law should be reviewed.

Instead of going before Sharp, the Sunday Times’ appeal was heard by Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Lord Justice Laws on 16th April. Laws said the Sunday Times had to persuade the court that Tugendhat “went wrong on the facts to a radical degree. That is a tall order on any view, and it is right to note that the trial judge in this case [Tugendhat] has a wealth of experience in the field of defamation.”

For all that, Laws found the Cruddas case “unusual and in some ways troubling”. There were “some singular features” about it.

It was clear that the journalists, posing as representatives of foreign financiers, made it plain their interest in approaching the respondent was entirely commercial, Laws said. He had “an uneasy sense” that Tugendhat might not, “despite his painstaking treatment of the case”, have confronted the realities of the exchanges between the journalists and Mr Cruddas.

The Eye’s artice states that the trial was continuing.

This article does indeed suggest that the Conservative party, or at least its individual members, are not above sitting in judgment in cases where there is a clear conflict of interest and their own political views may cause them to give an unjust judgment. This could be easily construed as another Tory attack on freedom of the press.

Apart from the libel case, there is also the matter of George Osborne’s appoint of a Conservative donor, Richard Sharp, to the committee of the Bank of England. If you’re looking for another parallel with Fascism, the Nazis set up vast corporations in order to control and ‘coordinate’ industry with Nazi policy. The boards included members of the Nazi party.