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Lib Dems and SNP lose High Court challenge over planned ITV election debate

The Liberal Democrats and SNP have lost a High Court challenge against ITV over its decision to exclude their party leaders from a televised election debate.

A head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn is due to air tomorrow, with no other party leaders set to take part.

The Lib Dems and the SNP contested the broadcaster’s decision at a hearing in London today, arguing it was unlawful because it breached impartiality rules.

But two leading judges ruled the decision was not open to challenge in the courts and that the parties’ only recourse was to complain to Ofcom.

Lord Justice Davis, sitting with Mr Justice Warby, said that, even if the court did have jurisdiction to deal with the case, the format of the debates was a matter of “editorial judgment” and there was “no arguable breach of the Broadcasting Code”.

He added: “The clear conclusion of both members of this court is that, viewed overall, these claims are not realistically arguable.

“It follows that the television debate scheduled for tomorrow evening between the leader of the Conservative Party and the leader of the Labour Party may lawfully go ahead.”

ITV lawyers had told the court that the debate – and an interview with Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson due to follow it – would have been pulled from its schedule altogether if the judges had found ITV breached its duties under the code.

Lawyers for the Lib Dems had argued that Brexit is the “dominant” issue of the general election and that “the voice of Remain has been excluded” by ITV‘s failure to include Swinson in the leaders’ debate.

Lawyers for the SNP said the party represents a range of views, including on Brexit and Scottish independence, which would not be represented in a debate between Labour and the Conservatives.

ITV lawyers contended its decision was not capable of challenge in the courts and that, in any event, there is no basis for alleging any unlawful conduct on its part.

Sky News has proposed a 28 November date for its debate, while the BBC has confirmed it will host two debates, on 29 November and 6 December, in addition to a series of Question Time specials.

Picture: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire

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