Trial for Deputies who deny election law breach

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TWO politicians are to stand trial after denying breaching the Public Elections Law, with their lawyer questioning whether the case is a good use of public money.

Deputies Scott Wickenden and Hugh Raymond – along with failed election candidate Bernie Manning – are accused of failing to declare their election expenses within the required time frame. Mr Manning, who campaigned for a seat in St Helier No 2 district in May, represented himself in court and also entered a not-guilty plea.

They appeared separately at the Magistrate’s Court yesterday morning to plead not guilty to the charge.

If convicted, the two sitting States Members would automatically lose their seats in the Chamber triggering by-elections in St Helier’s No 1 district and in Trinity. They would be allowed to stand in the subsequent by-elections.

Advocate Hiren Mistry, who is representing Deputies Wickenden and Raymond, questioned the wisdom of pursuing the case at a time when public finances were ‘under immense pressure’.

Under the election law, all candidates have 15 working days after an election to declare their election expenses. Those standing for a Deputy’s seat must not spend more than £1,700 plus 11 pence per Islander eligible to vote for them on their campaign. There is no suggestion that any of the three defendants breached spending limits.

If convicted of failing to submit their expenses forms on time, the three would be liable to pay a fine. In a statement released after the hearing, Advocate Mistry said: ‘During times of austerity and strikes, the public purse is under immense pressure and the public needs to ask how much this case is costing them, both in terms of legal fees of the Law Officers – and if there is a forced by-election there will be costs of that too.’

He had previously said the case was ‘not in the public interest’ and that it made ‘a mockery of free and fair elections’.

Deputy Wickenden was first elected in St Helier No 1 in 2014 and served as an assistant chief minister during the last States term. He is currently a member of the Privileges and Procedures Committee and the Planning Committee. Deputy Raymond was elected in Trinity in 2018 and currently holds assistant minister positions in both the Infrastructure and Health departments.

Assistant Magistrate Peter Harris retained jurisdiction of the case, which he adjourned until Thursday 31 January for a pre-trial hearing. All three defendants were released on bail.

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