Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Sunday, 7 February 2010

Home secretary says MPs must face trial in court

Alan Johnson: "They are entitled to a fair trial"

The home secretary has said the three Labour MPs and Tory peer charged with offences relating to their expenses claims should face trial in court.

All four deny the charges, with lawyers arguing that they may be protected by parliamentary privilege.

Mr Johnson told the BBC people wanted to see MPs treated like everyone else.

"They are entitled to a fair trial and the public... would be aghast if they thought there was some special get out of jail card for Parliamentarians."

It is understood that lawyers for Labour MPs Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine might claim their expenses are covered by Parliamentary privilege, which traditionally protects them from being sued for what they say in the Commons.

The politicians face charges of false accounting under section 17 of the Theft Act 1968. If found guilty they face a maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment.

CPS CHARGES LAID

Elliot Morley - two charges over £30,000 of mortgage interest claims

David Chaytor - accused of dishonestly claiming £1,950 for IT services and also £18,000 in rent

Jim Devine - accused of claiming £3,240 for cleaning services and £5,505 for stationery

Lord Hanningfield - faces six charges of dishonestly submitting expense claims


In a joint statement, the three Labour MPs, who have been barred from standing as Labour candidates in the general election, said: "We totally refute any charges that we have committed an offence and we will defend our position robustly.

"We maintain that this is an issue that should be resolved by the parliamentary commissioner who is there to enforce any breach of the rules."

Announcing the decision to press charges on Friday, the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer addressed the issue of Parliamentary privilege.

"Lawyers representing those who have been charged have raised with us the question of Parliamentary privilege," he said.

"We have considered that question and concluded that the applicability and extent of any Parliamentary privilege claimed should be tested in court."

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague told the Andrew Marr Show: "They should face prosecution, in the courts. I am in no doubt about that.

"The Bill of Rights was intended to secure freedom of speech, the freedom of speech of members of parliament to speak freely rather than be at threat from an over-powerful monarch at the time."



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