Saturday, 6 February 2010

Money, money, money ....

Money, money, money ….. a lot of stories are linked to it. Here are the lyrics to the well-known ABBA song. They seem to fit some of the news items currently in the media.

The Crown Prosecution Service has announced that 3 MPs and a Peer will be prosecuted under the Theft Act 1968 section 17 (“False Accounting”). The alleged offences relate to claims for expenses. The accused men are claiming that the Bill of Rights 1689 will protect them - Independent 6th February. Bill of Rights Article 9 - "That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament."

Next there is British Aerospace Systems. It would appear that the criminal investigations by the Serious Fraud Office are being halted under a “settlement” by which British Aerospace pay, in total, some £285 million. How this works is described in a Press release on the SFO website. This has been a lengthy and difficult matter. In December 2006 the Attorney-General stopped the SFO investigating allegations of corrupt dealings with Saudi Arabia - the "al Yamamah" deal.

We also see that the Bar Council is considering a judicial review of two consultations on Advocates Graduated Fees and Very High Cost Cases (VHCCs) which are being conducted by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Legal Services Commission (LSC) respectively. The Bar Council refer to the 9th Report (HC 322), the Public Accounts Committee which heavily criticised the MoJ and the LSC for the confusion and uncertainty about their respective roles in relation to legal aid, the absence of a clear strategic direction and poor management of legal aid changes at the Commission and the LSC’s lack of understanding of the legal services market. Maybe it is Parliament itself which ought to be bringing the responsible Ministers to heel?

Finally, we have all heard of the (now former) England Football team captain, John Terry. The idea of using a so-called “super injunction” to prevent publicity of his extra-marital affair came to an end before Mr Justice Tugendhat in Terry v Persons Unknown [2010] 119 (QB). No doubt we will hear more of this matter because it certainly sells newspapers!

If the need for all this money continues, we will need some more quantitative easing!

Addendum 7th February - In 1998-99, the meaning of "proceedings in Parliament" was considered by a Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege.   Report


  1. 3 MPs (and a Peer), surely? And Lord Hanningfield isn't claiming parliamentary privilege, just the three as-yet-unenobled troughers?

  2. Yes, it should have read 3 MPs and a Peer. I have altered the post accordingly but readily acknowledge that there was an error.

    However, the CPS statement (link provided) surely suggests that all of them will argue parliamentary privilege. Article 9 (Bill of Rights 1689) is applicable to members of either House though I believe that most previous arguments about its scope have concerned members of the Commons. We will have to wait and see how this pans out. One problem is that, at the end of the day, the final (or maybe I should say ONLY) judge of what is a "proceeding in Parliament" will be Parliament itself.

  3. Yes, you can certainly read the CPS statement that way, in the complete absence of any grammatical article in front of 'those', and I concur (it would be ignorant not to) that Privilege applies to both houses. I was taking other reports of Lord Hanningfield's actions in to account in my comment not just the necessarily and appropriately brief statement from DPP.

    Thanks for the addendum link - para 20 of the summary strongly suggests that the opinion of the Joint Committee (for what little that may be worth) is that privilege should not apply in this case.

  4. An interesting further angle - The Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 is still only partially in force. In particular, as far as I can see, the section dealing with offences relating to expenses remain to be commenced. When the Parliamentary Standards Bill was introduced, it contained Clause 10 which would have operated to disapply the Bill of Rights 1689 Article 9 in any court proceedings brought under the Parliamentary Standards Act against a member. At the Report Stage, Clause 10 was removed from the Bill.

    The Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 now commences by stating that nothing in the Act shall be construed by any court in the U.K. as affecting the operation of Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689.

    Of course, the 2009 Act is not being used against the 3 MPs and the Peer. Nevertheless, the process of the Bill through Parliament seems to show that, at the time, some people thought that the Bill of Rights 1689 could operate to prevent a court considering the evidence relating to an expenses claim.