Senin, 12 April 2010

'Expenses MPs' Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine get Legal Aid

The three MPs accused of fiddling their expenses have won their bid to get the public to pick up their legal bill.

Court officials confirmed today that David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine, who are all Labour MPs, will receive taxpayer-funded legal aid.

The three are due to go on trial later this year accused of theft by false accounting.

They are accused of stealing almost £60,000 in allowances through false mortgage applications, rent claims and invoices for services.

The cost of preparing their defence and of their legal representatives is likely to run into six figures, depending on the length of the trial.

But it could spiral far higher as the men threaten to take their battle to have the case against them thrown out to the Supreme Court.

Lord Hanningfield, who is accused of making false claims for travel allowances, has not made an application for legal aid, the court official added.

The three MPs have brought together some of the countrys most eminent barristers, who can charge hundreds of pounds an hour, to fight their cases.

They have already told judges they should be dealt with by parliamentary authorities instead of the courts.

Julian Knowles, QC, said that the defendants would claim to be protected by parliamentary privilege, covered in the 1689 Bill of Rights.

There is now likely to be a protracted legal argument over whether the men should face trial at all later this year.

The opening shots will be fired during a two-day hearing before Mr Justice Saunders at Southwark Crown Court that starts on May 27.

An HM Courts Service spokesman confirmed an application for legal aid for the three men was granted last Friday.

There has already been speculation that the total cost of prosecuting the four could exceed £3 million.

Scotland Yard said its inquiry into the expenses scandal has cost £508,500 so far, with the final bill likely to be considerably higher.

Mr Knowles, a leading junior barrister who represented the three MPs at their first magistrates court appearance, declined to comment.

A spokesman for Edward Fitzgerald QC, who is due to represent at least two of the MPs at the crown court, said he was not aware that a decision had been made on legal aid.

Mr Chaytor, 60, the MP for Bury North, is accused of falsely claiming rent on a London flat he owned, falsely filing invoices for IT work and renting a property from his mother, against regulations.

Mr Morley, 57, the MP for Scunthorpe, is accused of falsely claiming £30,428 in interest payments between 2004 and 2007 towards a mortgage on his home that he had already paid off.

Mr Devine, 56, the MP for Livingston, is said to have wrongly submitted two invoices worth a total of £5,505 for services provided by Armstrong Printing Limited.

He also faces a second charge that he dishonestly claimed cleaning and maintenance costs of £3,240 by submitting false invoices from Tom ODonnell Hygiene and Cleaning Services.

Lord Hanningfield, 69, the former leader of Essex County Council, faces six charges of making dishonest claims for travelling allowances.

The politicians could face up to seven years in jail if found guilty of stealing taxpayers cash. Each defendant will be tried separately.

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