Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A tragic case ....

Lord Taylor of Warwick has been sentenced to 12 months imprisonment in relation to fraudulent Parliamentary expenses claims - BBC 31st May 2011.  Lord Taylor was convicted in January.  He resigned the Conservative Party Whip at the time he was charged with the offences.  Lord Taylor's background and career may be seen here.

The Sentencing Remarks of Saunders J are available on the judiciary website (see remarks).   The judge sets out the dishonest course of conduct which Taylor embarked upon and points out how the use of an address in Oxford caused distress to the person living there who was not a part of Taylor's dishonest scheme.  This was an aggravating feature of the case as well as the conduct being over a prolonged period.  The Judge spoke particularly eloquently about Taylor's life and career and noted that much of it was conducted with "quiet dignity and humour which has characterised so much of his public life."    "All that Lord Taylor has thrown away.  Not by one stupid action but by a protracted course of dishonesty."

"At the core of the offending of both MPs and peers is the high degree of breach of trust and the effect on the reputation of Parliament. That applies equally
to both Houses. I am urged to suspend the sentences of imprisonment. I am afraid I cannot."

As the BBC article points out - "Former Labour MP Jim Devine was given a 16-month term after also pleading not guilty. His fellow former Labour members Eric Illsley, David Chaytor and Elliot Morley all pleaded guilty and were jailed for 12, 18 and 16 months respectively.  Lord Hanningfield, another former Conservative peer, was convicted last week and is awaiting sentence.  The sentencing of Lord Taylor was delayed pending the completion of Lord Hanningfield's trial.

Some of the former MPs fought their case to the Supreme Court on a point of law about Parliamentary Privilege.

Could the peerage be removed?

Interestingly, the removal of a Peerage would require an Act of Parliament - see House of Commons library 8th January 2008.   The last time such an Act was passed was in 1917 - Titles Deprivation Act 1917 - but that was concerned with certain title holders who had essentially adhered to the enemy.  The 1917 Act permitted successors to the title to petition for its restoration but no such petitions have been made.  In recent times, certain peers convicted of offences have retained their titles - for example, Lord Archer.

I would not advocate the removal of Taylor's peerage though I have no doubt that some will.  It was awarded for past services and in his way Taylor contributed much that is good to public life. The removal of a peerage in such a case would be an act of petty vengeance and not of justice.  His imprisonment and the inevitable public disgrace is punishment enough.

A further historical point of interest is that until the Criminal Justice Act 1948, a peer charged with a felony had to be tried in the House of Lords. The last such trial was that of Lord de Clifford in 1935 who was acquitted of manslaughter arising from a driving a car.  (At common law, crimes were divisible into felonies and misdemeanours but this old distinction became discredited and was abolished by the Criminal Law Act 1967).

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