Daily Mail (30th March 2010) has a report of the first Crown Court hearing in the "expenses" case against 3 M.P.s and one Member of the House of Lords. An array of massive legal talent is being assembled both for the Crown (Lord Pannick QC, Peter Wright QC and two other barristers) and also for the defence. It is reported that Edward Fitzgerald QC is representing two of the M.P.s and a further QC will be briefed to represent the third whilst Lord Hanningfield is being represented by Alun Jones QC. The Daily Mail reports that the costs will run into "many millions". Just who is paying is not clear and why so many "leaders" and "juniors" are required is also unclear. The meaning of the Bill of Rights 1689 Article 9 is an important constitutional matter but does it really require three days of legal argument?
Please also see the earlier post on this blog. Interestingly, the trial judge's ruling would apply during the trial but a legally binding precedent will require a decision of the appellate courts.
Point of historical interest: Until the Criminal Justice Act 1948, a member of the House of Lords was entitled to be tried by the House of Lords. The origin of that right appears to have been Magna Carta Clause 39 which stated - "No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way harmed--nor will we go upon or send upon him--save by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land". The last time this right was exercised was at the trial of the 26th Baron de Clifford in 1935.
For the serious student: See Research brief and First Report on Parliamentary Privilege.