News

19th July 2016

Parliament Overrules Court as Peer Cleared Over False Expenses

According to the Daily Telegraph, peers who have fiddled their expenses will not be prosecuted in the future after Parliament intervened in a trial where it exerted it’s authority over the criminal courts.

The case involved the disgraced former Conservative peer, Lord Hanningfield, having been accused of taking advantage of the House of Lords expenses system by claiming £300 a day subsidence allowance despite spending little time in Westminster. However, on the opening day of the trial, prosecutors were forced to offer no evidence when Parliament judged that such matters should be dealt by them rather than a criminal court.

Lord Hanningfield – birth name Paul White – was jailed in 2011 after committing fraud by fiddling £14,000 in parliamentary expenses by claiming overnight stays in London when he was actually returning to his home in Essex.

Since then, he returned to the House of Lords but last year was charged again after being accused of claiming £3,300 by clocking in to the Palace of Westminster but then leaving a short time after doing so. Prosecutors had claimed that on these respective days in question he had not engaged in his parliamentary duties and was therefore not entitled to the allowance.

House of Lords lawyers told the judge, Alistair McCreath, that it was not for the courts to decide what constituted as parliamentary work. After exercising the arcane rule of ‘exclusive cognisance’, Westminster authorities were able to overrule the criminal justice system, where Lord Hanningfield had been found not guilty of false accounting.

Judge McCreath explained to Southwark Crown Court that parliament had exercised the right for them to deal with the case and not the courts. 

He said: “It is manifestly impossible for the crown to present their case in whatever form without requiring the jury to receive evidence on the topic of and make a determination of what is and what is not parliamentary work.”

“At all times, it seems, until the later part of last week it appeared that parliament was not asserting in relation to that topic, what is parliamentary work, that that was a matter for their exclusive jurisdiction."

“In other words Parliament was saying it is a matter for us parliament to make that determination, not for the criminal court.”

John Allchin, one of our criminal defence solicitors said: “Although there may have been a legal authority to intervene, it is likely to undermine public faith in our judicial and parliamentary systems. To many the intervention will signify that Peers do not have to maintain the same standards of honesty as other citizens. Questions should also be asked about the timing of the intervention, made at a very late stage, in the proceedings when many thousands of pounds of taxpayer's money has been spent."

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