Sunday, 3 January 2010

Parliamentary Privilege v Freedom of Information

The latest ploy by three disgraced MPs is to claim that their expenses claims over which they are facing prosecution are protected under Parliamentary Privilege under the 1689 Bill of Rights. Not surprising amongst there number if Livingston MP Jim Devine as well as Elliot Morley and David Chaytor.

The heart of their claim is that the House of Commons rule book on expenses is "privileged" and shouldn't be open to scrutiny of the courts. The sad thing is that the three of these MPs using this argument just shows the people that MPs are trying to hide behind ancient rights instead of being open to public scrutiny, the end result being that they appear privileged in the wrong way as people who think they can spend what they want, without being subject to what they end up claiming.

Under the Freedom of Information Act which supersedes the Bill of Rights surely the releasing of MPs expenses comes under this. However, the three of them are retaining the Labour party's solicitors Steel & Shamash at their own expense. The firm have confirmed that they have instructed the QCs Nigel Pleming and Edward Fitzgerald to consider whether Morley, Chaytor and Devine should be protected by parliamentary privilege.

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker says however:

"Parliamentary privilege exists to safeguard democracy, not to subvert it.

"It certainly does not exist to allow MPs to rip off the taxpayer with impunity. Whether or not these MPs have committed a crime, they should not be allowed to subvert the court process with arcane technicalities that threaten further to undermine the standing of parliament."

The article of the Bill of Rights that the MPs are attempting to use in their case is that "Proceedings in parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court." Their QCs are claiming that this definition of proceedings applies to the "green book" of rules on expenses, and by extension to the expenses claims themselves.

However, as this latest claim and the MPs failure to co-operate with the police investigations until the matter is resolved raises another far more tricky dilemma. These three MPs are delaying the issuing of charges against them even further by the complex legal argument. One MP says:

"If we get to the election and they have still not been charged, there is no way under employment law that we could prevent them getting the [severance] payments, which will amount to up to a year’s money."

So are these potentially to be charge with fraud members holding proceedings up so that they can fleece a whole extra years pay out of their privilege, surely that cannot be allowed to happen.

See also: Dizzy Thinks, Tom Freeman, The Lone Voice, Ellee Seymour, Steve Beasant, Neil Herron, Goodnight Vienna @ Calling England and gmb45 @ Digital Kaos

1 comment:

  1. Of course when it suited then Tory MP Neil Hamilton to sue for libel, the law was changed to waive Parliament's traditional rights...!