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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK

UK Politics

Jones returns to Commons

Fiona Jones: Vindicated by the courts

Labour MP Fiona Jones has returned to the House of Commons to reclaim her seat following a landmark High Court judgement.

Cheers greeted the MP who returned to Parliament and spoke in a debate on the same day two judges ruled she was entitled to be reinstated, following the quashing of her conviction for falsifying election expenses.

The BBC's Fiona Jones: "There was no evidence that she acted dishonestly"
Mrs Jones, the MP for Newark, lost her seat after she was convicted under the 1983 Representation of the People Act last month.

When the conviction was overturned at appeal on 15 April, Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd referred the matter to the courts to establish if the former MP could return to Parliament.

After the ruling on Thursday Mrs Jones expressed relief.

"I am absolutely delighted. It has been a very stressful time for me and my family," she said.

[ image: Betty Boothroyd says Mrs Jones can return to her old job]
Betty Boothroyd says Mrs Jones can return to her old job
"I am looking forward to taking my seat back and representing the people of Newark."

The court's decision was relayed to MPs by Miss Boothroyd, who told the House that as a result of the judgement "the Newark seat is not vacant".

She said she would make a further statement only if the details of the full judgement, when it was received, "add significantly" to her simple explanation.

The judges are to give the reasons behind their ruling on Friday.

Fiona Jones: I am absolutely delighted
The court had been asked to interpret whether statements by Parliament on electoral fraud meant Mrs Jones was able to return to her seat after her conviction had been quashed or if she should only be allowed to fight for re-election.

During the two-day hearing, Philip Sales, counsel for Attorney General John Morris, had told the High Court: "Where an MP is elected, and then is convicted at first instance but succeeds on appeal, their incapacity to sit as an MP is removed.

[ image: The MP  was accused of falsifying her expenses for the 1997 general election]
The MP was accused of falsifying her expenses for the 1997 general election
"Ordinary fairness would suggest that all consequences of their wrongful conviction should be eliminated.

"They should not be penalised and should not be treated as being deprived of their right to sit as the duly elected MP for their constituency and deprived of their livelihood."

Mr Sales said it would also be unfair to the people who had voted for Mrs Jones "for the result of their vote to be set aside on the basis of a court decision which is overturned on appeal".

But it could be argued that the requirement that Mrs Jones "vacate her seat" following her conviction had the effect that it could only be filled again after a new election, Mr Sales said.

Mr Sales had told Lord Justice Kennedy and Mr Justice Mitchell that legal advice given to the House was that Mrs Jones was entitled to resume her seat.

He pointed out that the attorney general, the speaker and the authorities of the House were entirely neutral as to the outcome of the application.

Mrs Jones was the first MP to be convicted of falsifying their electoral expenses in more than 140 years.

Labour will be relieved to avoid a by-election for the once safe Tory seat which Mrs Jones took with a majority of just 3,000 votes in 1997

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