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Updated: July 30, 2010 16:34 IST

No immunity in U.K. lawmaker expense scandal cases

AP
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Britain's former Prime Minister Gordon Brown leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to go to Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, on May 13, 2009. MPs must prove themselves
Britain's former Prime Minister Gordon Brown leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to go to Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, on May 13, 2009. MPs must prove themselves "worthy of the public's trust" in the wake of the Westminster expenses scandal, Mr. Brown had then said. Details of lawmakers' expenses had been published over the past days in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper, creating a steady drip of embarrassing revelations about how lawmakers cash in on the taxpayer. File photo: AP.

Four legislators charged over Britain’s lawmakers’ expense claim scandal aren’t immune from prosecution under parliamentary privilege laws, the country’s Court of Appeal ruled on Friday.

Three ex—Labour Party legislators in the House of Commons, and a Conservative Party member of the House of Lords, are accused of theft by false accounting following the exposure of lawmakers’ claims, in some cases including outrageous attempts to bill the public for items including swank second homes, a mole catcher, horse manure and pornographic movies.

All four men facing charges had argued that under Britain’s 1689 Bill of Rights, they were protected from prosecution by parliamentary privilege, a type of immunity for lawmakers.

But Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge dismissed their claim on Friday, insisting the law protected legislators from libel claims over comments they make in debates.

“It can confidently be stated that parliamentary privilege, or immunity from criminal prosecution, has never ever attached to ordinary criminal activities by members of Parliament,” Judge said in his ruling.

“The stark reality is that the defendants are alleged to have taken advantage of the allowances scheme designed to enable them to perform their important public duties,” he added.

House of Lords member Paul White, known as Lord Hanningfield, is accused of six charges of false accounting and alleged to have submitted claims for overnight stays in London when records show that he had driven home.

Three ex—House of Commons lawmakers also face charges.

Elliot Morley is accused of three charges of false accounting, including an allegation that he billed taxpayers thousands of pounds (dollars) in mortgage payments on a loan that had already been paid off.

Jim Devine faces two charges for allegedly using false invoices for claims for cleaning and stationery. David Chaytor is accused of three charges of false accounting and alleged to have used false invoices to bill the public for IT services,

During the expense last summer, nine of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s ministers quit and his ruling Labour Party suffered heavy losses in local and European elections as angry voters deserted mainstream parties.

A total of 392 current and former British legislators were ordered to repay a total of 1.12 million pounds ($1.7 million) following an investigation.

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