Owen Paterson taking UK to human rights court after lobbying scandal

Owen Paterson, the former MP at the centre of a lobbying scandal that engulfed Boris Johnson’s government, is taking the UK to the European court of human rights to challenge the finding that he repeatedly broke the rules on paid advocacy.

Paterson, a leading Brexiter who also once argued the UK should “break free” from the ECHR, filed his case on the grounds that his right to respect for private life was infringed under article 8 of the European convention on human rights.

His case has been brought against the UK government, after the parliamentary commissioner for standards found Paterson had breached the MP code of conduct by misusing resources, engaging in paid lobbying and failing to disclose interests.

It also found that he had failed to demonstrate the selflessness and integrity which formed part of the principles of public life.

Evidence of Paterson’s lobbying was originally uncovered by the Guardian. Randox, a healthcare company, paid the former Northern Ireland secretary £100,000 a year to be its consultant. He was found to have repeatedly lobbied ministers on behalf of Randox and another firm that paid him in contravention of the rules against MPs engaging in paid lobbying.

After the report, MPs on the standards committee recommended a 30-day suspension, which Johnson’s government initially intended to oppose by trying to change the rules around standards investigations. However, the then prime minister backed down after a political outcry and Paterson’s suspension was approved by the House of Commons in a decision that cannot be challenged.

The sleaze row surrounding the case is seen as the first in a series of controversies which engulfed Johnson’s government and ultimately led to his downfall.

Paterson subsequently resigned from office in November 2021, saying the experience had been an “indescribable nightmare” for his family. The former MP has previously blamed the standards investigation process for being a contributory factor in the suicide of his wife of 40 years, Rose.

His application to the human rights court complains that his article 8 rights were infringed, as the “public finding that he had breached the code of conduct damaged his good reputation, and that the process by which the allegations against him were investigated and considered was not fair in many basic respects”.

Paterson was also provisionally found to have broken transparency rules by failing to register as a lobbyist for the healthcare firm, with the registrar giving a notice of intention to issue a civil penalty.

However, in a recent update, the registrar of consultant lobbyists published a decision notice saying Paterson did not in fact break the rules because he fell beneath the threshold for registering to pay VAT. In a technicality of the legislation, only lobbyists who are VAT registered are compelled to declare their clients and lobbying activity.

The investigation found: “It is likely that the three communications would otherwise have been registrable [as consultant lobbying] if payment had been made to a VAT registered entity. However, as payment was not made to a VAT registered entity they were not registrable and Mr Paterson was not, at that time, undertaking consultant lobbying activity for the purposes of the act.”

A spokesperson for the Council of Europe said: “Applications communicated to the respondent government are those which have been notified to respondent governments but have not yet been declared admissible or disposed of. The court may request factual information or observations, or inform the government that their observations are not required since the application concerns well-established case law.” The applicant in the case is referred to simply as OP.

No 10 said it was aware of Paterson’s case but had no comment. Paterson was also approached for comment.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “I’m aware of the legal action that relates to the ECHR. Given it is legal action I can’t comment at this stage but we will respond in the normal way.”

The court has also asked UK authorities to respond to a second complaint, submitted by the former Labour peer Nazir Ahmed, who was jailed in February for a serious sexual assault against a boy and the attempted rape of a young girl in the 1970s.

The former member of the House of Lords is complaining that his right to respect for private and family life was breached and is claiming discrimination.

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