Page last updated at 17:02 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 18:02 UK

MP 'has no duty to constituent'

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

It would have been a ruling to rock Westminster to its foundations.

John Taylor
John Taylor believes MPs should be held to account by the courts

For the first time, MPs would potentially have had a legal duty to properly represent their constituents.

There is no telling how many cases might have followed in its wake.

But sadly, for John Taylor, it was not to be.

The 84-year-old war veteran claimed his MP, Labour's Ann Keen, had not done enough to help him in his battle for compensation over a wrongful conviction.

He told Brentford County Court that Miss Keen had ignored his letters and refused to let him see the representations she said she had made on his behalf to the Ministry of Justice. She claims she did everything she could for him.

Sense of injustice

District Judge Tim Jenkins ruled that there was no legal basis for Mr Taylor's case to go ahead and overturned a default judgment which found against the MP when she did not attend a previous hearing.

Mr Taylor, who was badly wounded while fighting in Holland during the Second World War, has now vowed to seek a judicial review in his ongoing battle for compensation from the Ministry of Justice.

I would have thought there is some remedy for a constituent who is totally ignored by his MP
John Taylor

In the early 1960s, he served three years and six months of a five year sentence after finding himself at the centre of a police raid on a flat where officers found a stolen safe.

He always insisted that he had only been there by chance, having gone back with a friend after an evening in the pub to sleep off the drink rather than drive home.

In 1998 the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction on the grounds that he had not received a fair trial because he represented himself and evidence that backed his story had not been heard by the jury.

Mr Taylor then embarked on a fruitless quest for compensation for his time behind bars - culminating in an unsuccessful High Court battle with the home secretary.

The anger and sense of injustice the pensioner feels at his wrongful conviction still burns brightly.

He has sent more than 300 letters to Miss Keen asking for her help in seeking compensation.

Calm performance

He insists he has nothing personal against her, calling her a "stepping stone, who has not stepped", and that his real complaint is with the Ministry of Justice - but he says he is equally determined to expose what he sees as Miss Keen's "incompetence" in not securing him compensation.

Needless to say, the old soldier - immaculately turned out and clutching a pair of manila envelopes containing his notes - chose to represent himself at Wednesday's hearing.

Miss Keen, a junior health minister, was not present. A young man from her office, who was there to watch the proceedings, said she had important business in the Commons and did not, in any case, have to be in court for what was essentially an administrative hearing, not a trial.

Mr Taylor had a different theory. "If she did it would have allowed me to cross-examine her," he said beforehand, with a gleam in his eye.

Despite the media attention - it was standing room only in the tiny Court 5 - he gave a measured and calm performance, clearly relishing his day in court.

"I believe this is the first case of its kind, where a constituent has taken an MP to court. In that case - if there is no precedent set - then this court should set one," he told District Judge Jenkins.

"If this court fails to do that, it is the equivalent of saying an MP, once elected, no matter what they do - they can do nothing, just report in, grab the money and walk off and there is nothing you can do about it until the next general election.

"If a constituent has a grievance they have to wait five years or something to the next election. Well that isn't representation at all."


He added: "I would have thought there is some remedy for a constituent who is totally ignored by his MP."

The only remedy is in the "court of public opinion", Ms Keen's solicitor explained to the court.

There is no law which says MPs have to represent their constituents properly but even if there was, Miss Keen would not have been in breach of it, she added.

The Brentford and Isleworth MP had received an average of a letter a week from Mr Taylor for a number of years, the court was told.

Her office had stopped responding to them - beyond sending out a standard acknowledgment slip - in February 2008 due to one member of staff being "overworked" and suffering from ill health, the court was told.

As an MP, I deal with huge number of cases each year for my constituents, many of whom have successful outcomes

Ann Keen, Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth

Speaking on the court steps after the hearing, Mr Taylor accused the MP of "incompetence" and of being "in it for herself".

He joked that the case was the only thing that has kept him from going senile. But he also could not resist dig at his MP, and the fact that she trained as a nurse in the same hospital he had been treated in during the war.

"She might be a very good nurse but if she offered me a tablet for a headache, I wouldn't take one from her," he quipped.

Miss Keen's lawyer, Gerald Shemarsh, who described Mr Taylor as "a nice old boy", offered to show him copies of the representations the MP had made on his behalf.

He also handed reporters a statement from Miss Keen, which said: "I am sorry that this court action had to go this far.

"As an MP, I deal with huge number of cases each year for my constituents, many of whom have successful outcomes.

"Unfortunately, some cases for a variety of reasons do not have successful outcomes.

"Despite trying my hardest for Mr Taylor for than 10 years since 1997, this was one such case."

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