Judge slams MP Tom Elliott's interference over letter on behalf of banned driver
A judge has criticised UUP MP Tom Elliott for a testimonial he provided for a former soldier caught driving while banned.
The judge did not name the MP in court but said he "crossed the line of the independence of the court" and "trespassed on the sentencing process".
The UUP man had provided a letter for Andrew David Scarlett (37), of Granville Road, Dungannon, who was caught driving while disqualified and without insurance last October.
District Judge John Meehan, sitting at Dungannon Magistrates Court, also warned solicitors "not to present such inappropriate correspondence" in future.
After Scarlett appeared in court and admitted the offences, pre-sentence reports were ordered, as is standard practice for the crime. It was contended Scarlett had a number of issues in life as a result of his time in the Army. Because of this he was classed as unsuitable for a probation order and had expressed concerns over a suspended sentence - the court's usual penalty for the offence.
But in a scathing criticism, Judge Meehan said: "There is a testimonial before me from an MP. It states the defendant wishes not to avail of a suspended sentence and gives a commitment he will not drive again. That crosses the line on the independence of the court.
"Testimonials exist not to contribute to the sentencing process. To trespass upon the very sentencing process is as though to influence the court.
"There is an indication here a suspended sentence is unfair or disagreeable. This testimonial should not be before me.
"Solicitors are officers of the court. I ask solicitors not to present such improper correspondence to the court."
Addressing Scarlett, he added: "It was foolhardy to drive. You knew you were disqualified in 2014. Given the notorious dangers of a person who is unsuitable to be on the road, the public must be assured of a stern response."
Scarlett was handed a sentence of three months' prison, suspended for two years, and was disqualified from driving for a further two years.