Expenses appeal: Parliament ‘terrorised’ by media

By politics.co.uk staff

Lawyers defending the three former Labour MPs and one peer facing a criminal trial over their expenses claims suggested parliament had been terrorised by the media yesterday.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, representing former Scunthorpe MP Elliot Morley, suggested “the terrorisation of parliament by a massive press campaign” had occurred in the last year, the Telegraph newspaper reported.

Mr Morley, together with former Bury North MP David Chaytor, ex-Livingston MP Jim Devine and Lord Hanningfield, are appealing in the high court against a judge’s decision that they did not need to stand trial in a criminal court because they are protected by parliamentary privilege.

Mr Justice Saunders had ruled that the privilege, established in the 1689 Bill of Rights, did not extend to their expenses claims as these did not constitute part of the proceedings of parliament.

In his judgement he wrote: “Very important constitutional principles are involved which must be respected, and that must be the case even if it leads to a result which is unpopular not only with the public but also with members of parliament.”

In a written submission by the MPs’ lawyers at the high court appealing against Mr Justice Saunders’ ruling it was argued that parliament, not the crown court, was the correct place for dealing with the matter.

“Parliament has its own procedures for dealing with allegations of misconduct of this kind,” it argued

“The allegations, if proven, constitute contempt of parliament. It is for parliament, and parliament alone, to adjudicate on allegations of such contempt.”

But Lord Pannick QC, acting for the prosecution, argued that “privilege is confined in a reasonable and proportionate manner so as to avoid damaging the reputation of parliament”.

The appeal continues and is expected to conclude later today.