Ex-Tory peer Lord Hanningfield cleared of false accounting charges after Parliament asserts right to decide case
Former Conservative peer Lord Hanningfield has been formally acquitted of submitting false expenses claims after Parliament exercised its right to decide that the main issue in the case does not fall under the jurisdiction of the criminal courts.
Hanningfield, 75, who has already served a jail sentence for expenses fraud in 2011, was accused of claiming around £3,300 in House of Lords allowances which he was not entitled to in July 2013.
He was due to stand trial at Southwark Crown Court in London on Monday but the prosecution offered no evidence against him after Parliament intervened.
Prosecutor Patrick Gibbs QC said: "The authorities are asserting exclusive cognisance over the meaning of Parliamentary work.
"The prosecution ask the court to rule on the issue."
He added: "The courts and Parliament strive to respect each other's role and courts are careful not to interfere with the workings of Parliament."
Judge Alistair McCreath said that Parliament had exercised its right to decide that the main issue in the case, whether Hanningfield was carrying out Parliamentary work or not, does not fall under the jurisdiction of the criminal courts.
"The daily allowance is payable to the House of Lords provided that they have spent time during the course of the material day engaged in what is described as Parliamentary work," he said.
"At the heart of the prosecution case is an allegation that on the material days Lord Hanningfield did not carry out Parliamentary work."
He added: "The criminal courts in this country do not have jurisdiction over every alleged criminal wrongdoing.
"There is a particular aspect of that which relates to that which has been or has not been done in relation to the activities of Parliament."
Judge McCreath continued: "It is manifestly impossible for the Crown to present their case without requiring the jury to receive evidence on the topic of, and make a determination of, what is and is not Parliamentary work.
"Until late last week it appeared that Parliament was not asserting in relation to that topic, what is Parliamentary work, that that was a matter for their exclusive jurisdiction.
"Towards the end of last week and indeed relatively late on Friday, it became evident that Parliament was exercising exclusive cognisance in relation to the matter of Parliamentary work."
He added: "In other words Parliament was saying 'It is a matter for us as Parliament to make that determination, not for the criminal court'.
"Parliament having made that decision means that the prosecution are not in a position to invite the jury to consider the question of what is Parliamentary work, let alone make a determination of it."
Hanningfield, of West Hanningfield, near Chelmsford in Essex, was formally found not guilty of false accounting.
The non-affiliated peer was sentenced to nine months in prison in 2011 after being found guilty of nearly £14,000 worth of expenses fraud. He served a quarter of the sentence in jail.
A House of Lords spokesman said the judge decided to halt the trial.
He said: "In 2014, the House of Lords found that Lord Hanningfield broke its rules and imposed the maximum penalty available at the time - suspension for the rest of the Parliament in which the breach of its rules occurred.
"He was suspended for breaching the House of Lords' code of conduct by claiming allowances for attending the House over 11 days when he undertook no parliamentary work. He was also required to repay the public money wrongly claimed from the House
"The decision to halt Lord Hanningfield's trial today was made by the judge.
"Parliamentary privilege was raised by the defence with the court towards the end of last year, but the House of Lords administration was not told about that application or of the court's ruling on it.
"If it had been, a submission in similar terms would have been made at the time.
"The House of Lords administration sought to assist the court by making written submissions last week on the question of whether parliamentary privilege might apply to aspects of the trial, including the question of what did or did not amount to 'parliamentary work', following the receipt of papers outlining the nature of the prosecution case.
"The submission explicitly stated that this did not mean that the trial should not proceed.
"In giving his ruling on a CPS request to adjourn the trial, Judge Alistair McCreath confirmed that the issue of whether Lord Hanningfield was carrying out parliamentary work does not fall under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system."
Belfast Telegraph Digital