It appears that the three MPs and one Lord who are facing criminal charges (Jim Devine, David Chaytor, Elliott Morley, Paul White – I’ve removed their honourifics because these repulsive creatures do not deserve such) may be attempting to use the 1689 Bill of Rights Act as a defence. Or more specifically a provision within the Bill of Rights that granted immunity from prosecution to MPs in certain circumstances. Specifically any speech made within Parliament could not be questioned by any court nor the speaker impeached. My reading (bearing in mind that I am not a lawyer and I have not read the full act in great detail) of “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;” (the relevant section), tells me that there is nothing that gives MPs immunity from prosecution for theft (which “fraud” is merely a polite word for).
Now even if I am wrong and the Bill of Rights Act does give the rogue MPs immunity from prosecution more generally than just for what they say in Parliament – and it may do given the act is a little “poetic” in places – the intention of the relevant clause in the Act is obvious. It is to allow completely free debate in Parliament, and not to allow corrupt MPs to feather their nests at the expense of the nation.
It seems to me that only a man so desperate to get off the hook, he would gladly prostitute himself, his wife, his daughters, and throw away any principle he once had, would use the Bill of Rights as a defence in this case. The most honourable way through this, is of course to shut up and plead “Guilty”. After all at a certain point you just have to stop protesting and accept the fact that you are in the wrong.
In fact any attempt to use the Bill of Rights in this way is surely so far beyond the pale, that it is surely grounds for instant and permanent expulsion from Parliament. Judging from the reactions of just a few MPs, the general reaction even amongst them is revulsion. Well this time do something concrete and expel these four.
The Tories have announced plans to reform the Bill of Rights to clarify parliamentary privilege – sounds good. But it is suspicious that this is announced just before an election, and I suspect it is not really needed anyway. The law as it stands is perhaps somewhat vague, but as mentioned before the intention that it applies only to speech is indeed clear.