British Politicians Can Be Tried in Criminal Courts for Fraud, Judge Rules

Britain’s criminal courts have the right to try four U.K. politicians for false accounting, a judge ruled today.

Justice John Saunders in London rejected arguments made by the men’s lawyers that the rule of “Parliamentary privilege” means that they can only be tried by Parliament, not a normal criminal court.

There is “no logical, practical or moral justification for a claim for expenses being covered by privilege; I can see no legal justification for it either,” Saunders, ruling at Southwark Crown Court, said.

Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine, all former members of the House of Commons, and Paul White, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, have all pleaded not guilty to making fraudulent expenses claims to the House of Commons and House of Lords while working as lawmakers. Saunders said the men could seek to appeal the ruling.

While Parliamentary privilege protects lawmakers from prosecution for carrying out their Parliamentary duties, Saunders said that in relation to criminal charges the privilege should be “narrowly construed.”

“The principle that all men are equal before the law is an important one, and should be observed unless there is good reason why it should not apply,” the judge said.

Claiming expenses isn’t part of a lawmaker’s duties, Saunders said.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Lumley in London at jlumley1@bloomberg.net.

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