Lord Carlile says Lib Dems should have fought for AM

John Dixon and Lord Carlile
Image caption Lord Carlile (right) said he was 'appalled' by what had happened to John Dixon

The Liberal Democrats should have fought a legal battle to reinstate a Welsh assembly member, says a senior party figure.

Lord Carlile told BBC Radio Wales it appeared the party did not have the money to fight John Dixon's case.

He was disqualified as an AM when it emerged he was a member of a public body to which candidates cannot belong.

The Welsh Lib Dems said he paid a high price but his case had little support in the assembly.

The party leadership has already admitted failing to provide candidates with proper support.

North Wales AM Aled Roberts regained his seat when AMs voted to readmit him last week after his was disqualified for the same reason.

Members voted to reinstate Mr Roberts after an investigation found he was misled by out-of-date guidance for election candidates published in Welsh.

But the same report found Mr Dixon had failed to read the relevant regulations as a candidate and the party withdrew its motion to reinstate him.

Mr Dixon, 46, a Cardiff councillor, was elected for the South Wales Central region, but had to stand down because he was still a member of the Care Council for Wales, which regulates social care workers.

His place in the assembly has been taken by Eluned Parrott.

Lord Carlile QC of Berriew is a former Welsh party leader.

The ex-Montgomeryshire MP said if Mr Dixon had been put to the vote and refused entry to the assembly, his case would have been the subject of a "successful judicial review".

Speaking on Sunday Supplement on BBC Radio Wales, he said: "I'm appalled by what has happened to John Dixon. What John Dixon did quote, wrong, unquote, was very far from being heinous.

'Very disappointed'

"I believe that if John Dixon had been put to the vote and refused entry to the assembly, it would have been the subject of a successful judicial review.

"And I'm very disappointed that my party and his, the Liberal Democrats, appeared not to have the resources to take up the cudgels to fight John Dixon's case all the way."

Asked if his party was broke, and did not have the money to fight the case, Lord Carlile added: "I'm not sure the party's broke, but taking up the case would have involved the potential expenditure of a few tens of thousands of pounds.

"In my view, it would have been right for that money to be spent to save the political career of a fine candidate, who would have made a good assembly member."

He added that if the money had been available to "pursue litigation on his behalf", he believed Mr Dixon "would be back in the assembly".

Lib Dem AM Peter Black, also speaking on Sunday Supplement, said he believed that the Electoral Commission, which was criticised in a report into the disqualification affair, was not fit for purpose.

"I think the vast majority of politicians and, I think, electoral returning officers around this country think the same thing," he said.

'Little support'

"The Electoral Commission has proved, both in the referendum and the way it ran the assembly campaign and, of course, in this episode, that it has major issues which it has to address.

"Now, I'm not calling for resignations but what I am saying is that the Electoral Commission needs to prove to those people who have an interest in elections and making sure those elections are properly run that it is fit for purpose."

A Welsh Liberal Democrats spokesman said: "The Welsh Liberal Democrats approach from the beginning was to do all we could to ensure that the two men could take up their seats.

"Alex Carlile is absolutely right to say that John Dixon would have been an excellent Assembly Member and that he has paid a very high price for what was far from being the most heinous crime committed by a politician in the last few years.

"However, it was clear there was very little support for his case in the assembly."

Last Tuesday, a report by assembly standards commissioner Gerard Elias QC said Mr Roberts "did everything that he could have reasonably been expected to do in ensuring that he was not a disqualified person for the purpose of nomination or election".

In a statement, the Commission said "there were mistakes made" in its guidance for candidates.

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