MPs appear in court over British expenses scandal
Three Labour MPs and a Conservative peer told a British judge yesterday they would use a 320-year-old law to argue they should not be prosecuted over the expenses scandal.
MPs David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine, along with Lord Hanningfield, will insist their case should not be tried by a jury and instead dealt with by House of Commons authorities. In an unprecedented hearing at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court, all four parliamentarians said they would plead not guilty to fiddling claims for allowances.
District Judge Timothy Workman agreed the case was so serious it should be heard at a higher court and released the four defendants on unconditional bail to appear at Southwark Crown Court on March 30.
If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
The court heard the MPs would argue they were protected by parliamentary privilege, covered in the 1689 Bill of Rights.
Julian Knowles, barrister for the MPs said the case was of "high constitutional importance" but added the criminal courts had "no jurisdiction" over them.
"Proceedings in parliament cannot be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside parliament," he said.
He stressed the men denied any wrong-doing. "They unequivocally and steadfastly maintain their innocence."
In a separate hearing immediately after the MPs', the court was told Lord Hanningfield would also argue he was covered by parliamentary privilege.
His lawyer said he would deny charges of wrongly claiming for "repayment of travelling and other expenses".
The three MPs and peer left court without commenting and were mobbed by the media and a handful of protesters chanting "give us our money back", "pigs" and "oink, oink".
Bury North MP Mr Chaytor (60) is accused of falsely claiming rent on a London flat he owned, falsely filing invoices for IT work and renting a property from his mother, against regulations.
Scunthorpe MP Mr Morley (57) allegedly falsely claimed £30,428 (€33,388) in interest payments between 2004 and 2007 towards a mortgage on his home he had already paid off.
Livingston MP Mr Devine (56) is said to have wrongly submitted two invoices worth a total of £5,505 (€6,041) for services provided by Armstrong Printing Limited.
He also faces a second charge alleging he dishonestly claimed cleaning and maintenance costs of £3,240 (€3,555) by submitting false invoices.
Lord Hanningfield, also known as Paul White (69), faced six charges of making dishonest claims for travelling allowances.