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Owen Paterson takes Government to European court over lobbying probe

Ex-Tory MP Owen Paterson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Ex-Tory MP Owen Paterson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Former Tory Cabinet minister Owen Paterson is taking the Government to the European Court of Human Rights over a ruling by Parliament’s standards watchdog that he broke lobbying rules.

The ardent Eurosceptic, who resigned from Parliament last year after an investigation into his conduct, is arguing that his right to privacy was breached under the European Convention of Human Rights – which he previously said the UK should quit.

The court said in a summary of the case: “The applicant 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.”

The European Court of Human Rights has formally asked Rishi Sunak’s Government to respond to the case.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone last year found the then-Conservative MP for North Shropshire breached the Commons code of conduct by lobbying ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

The Commons Standards Committee said his actions were an “egregious” breach of the rules on paid advocacy by MPs and recommended that he should be suspended for 30 sitting days.

But Mr Paterson called the process “biased” and “not fair”, saying it had been a contributing factor in the suicide of his wife, Rose, and accusing the Commissioner of making up her mind before she had even spoken to him.

In early November 2021, then-prime minister Boris Johnson tried to change the rules to prevent Mr Paterson’s six-week ban from Parliament, before being forced to U-turn just 24 hours later in the face of public anger.

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

Mr Paterson, an arch Brexiteer, in 2014 argued in a speech that the UK should not just quit the EU but replace the European Convention on Human Rights, on which the European Court of Human Rights adjudicates.

Owen Paterson and Boris Johnson
Owen Paterson and Boris Johnson (Lewis Whyld/PA)

In a 2015 article, the former environment secretary called for moves to “set the UK free from the ECHR”.

Downing Street declined to comment on the case.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman 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 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.