Essex

Judge rules false expenses claims are 'matter for Parliament'

Lord Hanning field Image copyright Philip Toscano/PA
Image caption Lord Hanningfield arrives at Southwark Crown Court where he was cleared

A former Conservative peer has been acquitted of submitting false expenses claims.

Lord Hanningfield was charged with submitting claims for £3,300 in 2013 for attendance at the House of Lords.

The prosecution at London's Southwark Crown Court failed to offer any evidence.

Judge Alistair McCreath ruled the issue was a matter for Parliament and the case did not fall under the jurisdiction of the criminal courts.

Hanningfield, of West Hanningfield, near Chelmsford in Essex, was formally found not guilty of false accounting.

The 75-year-old was barred from the House of Lords in May 2014 after the standards watchdog found he claimed a daily £300 attendance allowance on 11 days when he did not "undertake any parliamentary work".

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Prosecutor Patrick Gibbs QC asked the court to rule on the issue as Parliament had decided it alone had the exclusive right to define it.

"The courts and Parliament strive to respect each other's role and courts are careful not to interfere with the workings of Parliament," he added.

Judge McCreath ruled the issue of whether Hanningfield was carrying out Parliamentary work did not fall under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system.

"At the heart of the prosecution case is an allegation that on the material days Lord Hanningfield did not carry out Parliamentary work.

"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.

"What is Parliamentary work...was a matter for their exclusive jurisdiction.

"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," he said.

Lord Hanningfield said in a statement: "I am relieved the matter has come to an end. I always maintained that I carried out parliamentary work on the dates in question away from the House and that my short time in the House on those dated was explained by my ill health."

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