Lawmakers Accused of Fraud Tell Appeals Court Only Parliament Can Try Them

Lawyers for three former U.K. lawmakers told a London appeals court that Britain’s criminal courts don’t have the right to try the men for falsely accounting for expenses while they served in Parliament.

A lower-court judge erred earlier this month when he ruled that Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine, all former Labour party members of the House of Commons, should be tried in a normal criminal court, their lawyers said today. Instead they should be tried by Parliament itself, they told the Court of Appeal.

“The appellants emphasize that they do not contend, at all, that they are somehow ‘above the law,’” the men’s attorneys said in a joint court filing. “However, it is submitted that any investigation into their expenses claims and the imposition of any sanctions for abuse of the Additional Costs Allowance for MPs should lie within the hands of Parliament.”

In a June 11 ruling at Southwark Crown Court, Justice John Saunders rejected arguments that the rule of “Parliamentary privilege” means the men can only be tried by the legislative body. He said there was “no logical, practical or moral justification” for them not being tried in a courtroom.

The men have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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.”

Not ‘Immune’

While the men don’t suggest they are “immune from criminal law,” because they were lawmakers, they do claim they are immune from prosecution for actions arising from “performance of their functions” as lawmakers, today’s submission said.

Parliament, as well as the criminal courts, has the power to fine and imprison, the submission said.

Edward Fitzgerald is representing Morley, Gavin Millar is representing Devine and Nigel Pleming is representing Chaytor.

The hearing at the Court of Appeal is scheduled to last two days. Prosecutors will make their case later in the hearing.

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

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