Parliamentary privilege

8 February 2010

Three Labour MPs are charged with theft. For some reason, these three MPs are reported as considering an invocation of parliamentary privilege to avoid prosecution. Were they finding an ingenious way of stoking up the public anger even more? The Parliament’s reputation has been tarnished, and merely raising the possibility that they could be immune from prosecution does much damage to the institution, and the British democracy and constitution.

It seems odd that this method of evading prosecution is discussed at all. Would an MP claim parliamentary privilege after murdering someone in cold blood? Of course not, and there are probably very fancy legal arguments that would distinguish these particular crimes of theft from murder. However, it remains the case that these MPs stole money by making false claims. They were not fighting for the integrity of the Parliament, or against the meddlesome Crown. Fiddling forms and stealing money hardly seem central to being and discharging the duties of an MP.

Where is the sense of duty and dignity in these three MPs and their actions?