An SNP MP has hired the firm of prominent human rights lawyers who have won a string of high-profile cases – including that of Clive Ponting – as he continues his legal battle with the UK government over of a secret ballot on the Union.
Tommy Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh East, has been fighting for years to get the information published and has already won a decision from the Information Commissioner to have the documents made public.
Despite this, the Cabinet Office refused to hand them over, as Mr Sheppard took the government to court for the information.
His legal team has now sent its written submissions to the court which could issue a judgment without a hearing.
Speaking to the Herald, Mr Sheppard revealed he was able to commission Bindmans as solicitors to defend his case following a crowdfunding campaign which raised just under £10,000.
The London-based firm was established in 1974 as Bindman and Partners by leading human rights lawyer Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC along with Wendy Mantle, Sarah Leigh and William Blakeney. Over the years, they have represented dozens of clients fighting to protect their rights and freedoms.
Clients have included families affected by the Grenfell fire and the Hillsborough football disaster as well as the late senior civil servant Mr Ponting.
Bindmans represented the Ministry of Defense official after leaking documents about the sinking of the Argentine vessel General Belgrano during the Falklands War, which saw him arrested and charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act. Although the judge ordered the jury to convict him, Mr Ponting was acquitted.
The company was also involved in the successful extradition of Chilean General Pinochet from London to his native country where he became the first head of state to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
Sir Geoffrey Bindman has also backed James Hanratty’s family in their legal efforts to clear his name after the 25-year-old was one of the last people in the UK to be hanged in 1962.
Mr Sheppard thanked people who donated to his crowdfunder and said he hoped the polls would finally be released by the Cabinet Office, as previously reported.
The data, which will now be out of date since 2018, relates to the public Westminster poll of attitudes towards the Union and Scottish independence, which was funded by the taxpayer.
“It’s not so much about polls and independence anymore, it’s about the right to know. That should ring alarm bells for anyone worried about what the government is doing,” he said.
“I hope the judge rules in our favour, the Cabinet Office complies and that will be the end of the matter because this has been going on for too long. But I am dealing here with a very belligerent Cabinet Office and uncompromising.”
Mr Sheppard originally requested it through a freedom of information request in 2019, which was rejected by the Whitehall department.
The Cabinet Office has since appealed the decision to hand over the information twice,
Alongside the 2019 demand, the SNP also called for a public inquiry after The Herald revealed former Cabinet minister Michael Gove had used Covid contract funds to conduct research into attitudes towards the union.
Mr Sheppard, MP, said 14 months had passed since the Tribunal ruled that information it had requested about polls into public attitudes towards the union should be made public.
The Cabinet Office has previously said the UK government regularly commissions research across the UK to understand public attitudes and behaviors to inform our campaigns and policies.