Expenses MPs lose privilege appeal

By politics.co.uk staff

Three former MPs and a peer’s latest bid to avoid a criminal trial over their expenses claims has failed.

The court of appeal backed the ruling of Mr Justice Saunders that they could not use the defence of parliamentary privilege to protect them from a trial.

It means former Labour MPs David Chaytor, Elliot Morley, Jim Devine, together with Lord Hanningfield, will stand trial unless they successfully take their case to the supreme court.

All four parliamentarians deny false accounting charges over their expenses claims. Together they face 13 charges under section 17 of the Theft Act 1968.

The quartet had argued they should be accountable to parliament rather than the courts because, under the 1689 Bill of Rights, their expenses claims fell under the category of ‘proceedings of parliament’ – and were therefore protected by privilege.

“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,” Mr Justice Saunders wrote in his judgement.

His eventual conclusion that expenses claims were not protected was backed by Lord Judge, Lord Neuberger and Sir Anthony May in the court of appeal.

Their case has attracted huge public interest in the wake of the expenses scandal, which triggered widespread anger with politicians.

The ruling will also affect Eric Illsley, another Labour MP who is also facing a criminal trial for his expenses claims.