Supreme Court dismisses expenses MPs’ appeal on parliamentary privilege
10 November 2010
R v Chaytor and others (Appellants) UKSC 2010/0195 (Awaiting judgment)
The Supreme Court has dismissed the appellants’ appeal from the decision of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division that the Crown Court does have jurisdiction to try a Member of Parliament in relation to the submission of an allegedly dishonest claim for Parliamentary expenses or allowances.
The Appellants had argued that the court was deprived of jurisdiction by either or both of (i) Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1688; or (ii) the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament.
As can be seen from our previous posts on this matter, the appellants had each been committed for trial in the Crown Court on charges of false accounting contrary to s 17(1) Theft Act 1968 arising from their submission of claims for parliamentary expenses and/or allowances at a time when each appellant was a sitting Member of Parliament. At a preparatory hearing the appellants contended that the Crown Court did not have jurisdiction to determine the charges by reason of parliamentary privilege.
Actually I’m pretty certain that they will do both, and more than one will have a crack at some purple prose. What puzzled me when the expenses scandal broke was that most commentary, and all of the excuses proferred by the MPs, seemed to ignore the overriding objectives of the Parliamentary Green Book.
It contains a large number of detailed rules. Presumably these are the rules with which MPs think they complied. They are, however, made subject to overriding principles, which the Green Book states must be adhered to when making claims. These include: that claims should be above reproach; that claims must only be made for expenditure that it was necessary for an MP to incur to ensure that he or she could properly perform his or her parliamentary duties; that MPs must ensure that claims do not give rise to, or give the appearance of giving rise to, an improper personal financial benefit to themselves or anyone else; that MPs are committed to openness about what expenditure has been incurred and for what purposes; and that MPs should avoid purchases which could be seen as extravagant or luxurious.
This was pointed out by Francis Bennion in a letter to the Times, though not many others seem to have run with it.
I think they may do both (perhaps with multiple judgments). The MPs have such an unattractive case that it is a good opportunity to wax lyrical on constitutional principles. Realistically no MP is going to argue against this decision no matter how strident it is in constitutional terms.
Better to do it now than in a case where there is a real potential for a constitutional clash, e.g.
I will be interested to see how the judgments are written, given the rather curious debate that seems to have done the rounds on the court “making its identity” or “attracting publicity” (which would have appalled the old Law Lords of the past). Will they simply find as a technical interpretation that the expenses do not fall within the protection of art 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689, or will someone do an impression of Denning at the constitutional pulpit?
The Supreme Court must have enjoyed finding themselves above Parliament for once (sort of)!
As I have said elsewhere this morning, the most apposite quote I can think of is Denning’s invocation of Thomas Fuller: “Be you never so high, the law is above you”
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