Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Tuesday, 27 April 2010 18:42 UK

SNP's BBC leaders' debate legal action adjourned

SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon
The SNP's Nicola Sturgeon lodged the papers at the Court of Session

The SNP's legal action over its exclusion from Thursday's leaders debate on BBC One has been adjourned.

Leading figures in the Scottish National Party went to the Court of Session in Edinburgh to formally lodge papers contesting the BBC's decision.

The party, which raised £50,000 to pay for the process, said it was not trying to stop the broadcast but it wanted an SNP politician included "for balance".

Judge Lady Smith adjourned the hearing until 1000 BST on Wednesday.

The other parties said the SNP was more interested in grabbing headlines.

Scottish Deputy First Minister and SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon went to the court with Bruce Crawford, the party's business convener, to hand over the papers.

Speaking outside the court, Ms Sturgeon said: "This is a simple argument for fairness.

Judge Lady Smith
Judge Lady Smith will hear the case at the Court of Session

"The debate cannot and should not be allowed to go ahead while it excludes one of the main political parties in Scotland.

"This is not just about the SNP, this is about the right of voters in Scotland to have the choice they have on 6 May accurately represented to them."

The SNP claims the BBC is breaching its duties and charter obligations as a public service broadcaster by refusing to give the party equal billing alongside Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

The exact nature of the court papers has not yet been revealed.

The party could ask the courts to instruct the BBC to add the SNP to Thursday's final debate in Birmingham.

Judges may then decide to block the debate from being shown in Scotland, to force the BBC Trust to review its decision or to throw the case out.

Labour said SNP leader Alex Salmond was "completely unable" to explain why he refused to take part in a BBC Scotland debate on Sunday night, or why he was boycotting the main BBC Scotland election debate this weekend.

Instead of making believable statements on how to bring down the debt, or sort out the economy, his one main fight of the campaign is to get himself on the TV
David Mundell
Tory Scottish affairs spokesman

The SNP's notice of legal action came after the BBC Trust did not uphold a complaint from the Nationalists and Plaid Cymru over their exclusion from the debate.

Plaid Cymru has said it supported the SNP's stance but would not take part in joint action, due to separate legal systems.

A Labour spokesman said of Mr Salmond: "He is more interested in trying to win newspaper headlines, because he knows he isn't winning the argument - he wants to stand at a podium, but isn't even standing in the election."

Conservative Scottish affairs spokesman David Mundell said: "Alex Salmond's attempts to be part of the UK leaders' debates is nothing but posturing.

"He has been offered a space on four Scottish leaders' debates and refused three of them.

"Instead of making believable statements on how to bring down the debt, or sort out the economy, his one main fight of the campaign is to get himself on the TV."

'Measure of desperation'

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg branded the proposed legal action as a "measure of desperation".

Mr Clegg, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, said: "The broadcasters have made their decision, they've invited the leaders of the parties competing across the United Kingdom to be prime minister of this country.

"So, quite understandably, they haven't invited Alex Salmond."

Mr Clegg said the legal action could mean the televised debate would not be broadcast in Scotland.

He said: "I understand he's got a bone to pick with the broadcasters and he should pursue that, but he shouldn't penalise the Scottish people and prevent them from watching the debate."

In London, UKIP said it has written to the BBC Director General, Mark Thompson, giving him a deadline of noon on Wednesday to agree to include their leader Lord Pearson.

If the request is not met, the party said it would seek a judicial review of the decision by applying to the Administrative Court at 1400 BST.



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