Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Mp's expenses

Three former Labour MPs charged with fraud over their parliamentary expenses are to take their case to the Supreme Court.

Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine are to appeal to the country’s most senior judges at a hearing next month.

The three, along with Lord Hanningfield, a Tory peer also accused of expenses fraud, are due to go on trial in November.

But they claim that they cannot be tried in ordinary criminal courts because of centuries-old laws on parliamentary privilege.

Three Court of Appeal judges found against them in July saying that they could not envisage how the ancient defence could ever cover "ordinary criminal activities" by MPs and.

But the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, ruled that there was a "point of general public importance" for Britain's highest court to rule on.

His decision opens the way for lawyers representing the three MPs to take the point directly to the Supreme Court at a hearing in front of nine senior judges on October 18.

But he refused an application for legal aid to pay for a team of six barristers to represent the three MPs saying that it could not be justified in such “straitened times”.

The three will instead be represented by a single legal team.

Mr Chaytor, 60, the former MP for Bury North, is accused of falsely claiming more than £20,000 for rent and IT services.

Mr Morley, 58, a former agriculture minister and MP for Scunthorpe, is accused of falsely claiming £30,428 in interest on a mortgage he had paid off.

Mr Devine, 57, the former member for Livingston, is alleged to have falsely claimed more than £8,000 for services. Lord Hanningfield faces charges relating to travel expenses. All four deny theft by false accounting.

At a hearing in July the MPs argued that they were protected from prosecution by the Bill of Rights of 1689, which states that "proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament".

Lord Judge, Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, and Sir Anthony May, the President of the Queen's Bench Division, unanimously dismissed their appeal in July.

At a further hearing on Tuesday Lord Judge formally upheld the earlier decision but said the judges had agreed that they could ask the Supreme Court to rule on the question: “Does the Crown Court have the jurisdiction to try an MP in relation to allegations of dishonest claims for parliamentary expenses or allowances, or is the court deprived of jurisdiction by Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1688 or the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament?”

He said: “The matter will no doubt be renewed before the Supreme Court … I understand that the Supreme Court will be ready to consider the application on October 18.”

If the Supreme Court agrees with the former MPs they would have to be tried by parliament itself.

But if they lose they will go on trial at Southwark Crown Court a few weeks later.

Lord Judge rejected an application for legal aid to provide leading barristers for all three of the former MPs as well as junior counsel and solicitors to assist them.

"Given that there are huge constraints on public finances in every department and in particular the legal aid department of the Ministry of Justice, I simply cannot justify the use of three different counsel to represent three different appellants," he said.
Telegraph.co.uk

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