media video is available of Mr Nigel Pleming QC arguing in the Supreme Court of the U.K. that the men, charged under the Theft Act 1968 s.17 in relation to expenses claims submitted when they were Members of Parliament, may not be tried in the Crown Court. Mr Pleming stated that it was not because the men claim to be "above the law" but they do claim that only "The High Court of Parliament" may deal with this matter.
From a purely historical perspective, Parliament certainly was the "High Court of Parliament." Until the Criminal Justice Act 1948, a peer could claim a right to be tried there. Furthermore, obsolete procedures such as impeachment and Bills of Attainder appear to remain as, albeit, remote and rather theoretical possibilities. Of course, until the creation of the Supreme Court of the U.K., it was the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords which stood at the apex of British legal systems. Interestingly, perhaps the principal argument for the creation of the Supreme Court was the separation of judicial functions from the legislature.
A modern Parliament fit for the 21st century should disclaim any jurisdiction in criminal matters and should confine itself to the proper role of a legislature: scrutinising proposed legislation, enacting well-considered new law and holding the executive to account through debate and the various committees. The trial processes of the Crown Court are designed to ensure due process. Parliament itself does not have similar procedures and rules of evidence etc. Any "trial" before Parliament is unlikely to reach modern standards of due process required in criminal trials.
A further aspect of the expenses matter is the question of why have these particular men been singled out for prosecution? The expenses scandal was widespread and affected (in different ways) members of both Houses of Parliament. Members from all parties engaged in practices such as "flipping of homes" and these commonplace practices appear to have been generally accepted by the Parliamentary authorities at the time. Of course, now that the men have been charged, they are perfectly entitled to advance any relevant legal argument in their defence. That is their absolute right. It matters not that they are praying in aid outdated and arcane law which really ought to be reformed.
When this costly case - (which has been heard by the Court of Appeal and now has nine Supreme Court justices sitting) - is viewed against the backdrop of massive cuts to legal aid and denial of access to justice for thousands of people it really does make one wonder just what sort of country we are living in.
Addendum 21st October: The Independent "Peers suspended from Lords over expenses claims"