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Disgraced Labour MPs seek to use 1689 Bill of Rights to avoid prosecution over expense claims

This is according to the Telegraph:

"MPs who are being investigated for expenses fraud are trying to argue a case that they are protected by the 300-year-old Bill of Rights that gives MPs Parliamentary privilege. Lawyers for the MPs are looking at whether the 1689 act could protect them from prosecution.

"If the Commons rule book, which has for years governed the expenses claims of MPs, is found to be covered by privilege then it could severely hamper attempts by prosecutors to bring MPs to court. MPs rely on privilege to remain immune from prosecution when they raise contentious matters in the Commons.

"Elliot Morley, the former Labour minister, and David Chaytor, a Labour backbencher, are being investigated by Scotland Yard for claiming expenses for mortgages that no longer existed. Jim Devine, another Labour backbencher, is also being investigated by detectives. He is alleged to have claimed £2,157 for rewiring his taxpayer-funded London flat using a receipt bearing an invalid VAT number and incorrect details of a firm.

"The three MPs are using the Labour Party’s lawyers, Steel & Shamash, although they are footing the bill themselves. The firm has confirmed that it has instructed QCs to look at whether Mr Morley, Mr Chaytor and Mr Devine are protected by Parliamentary privilege."

The trio have already been forced to announce their retirements from the Commons at the general election, but it would surely be a travesty of justice if they were able to hide behind the Bill of Rights to escape prosecution in this way.

The paper also reports that of the 400 MPs been asked to pay back money by Sir Thomas Legg, about a quarter are currently appealing against the demand. 

Jonathan Isaby