Former MPs face huge bills for legal costs

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THREE expenses cheating MPs have been landed with massive bills to repay legal aid and prosecution costs following their convictions.

Elliot Morley, the former Environment Minister and ex-Scunthorpe MP and David Chaytor, 62, former MP for Bury North were each ordered to pay prosecution costs of £23,176 by a judge at Southwark Crown Court while the ex-MP for Barnsley Central Eric Illsley was ordered to pay £12,178.

Morley, 59, was ordered to pay £33,005 legal aid costs, with Chaytor ordered to pay £23,036 and Illsley, 56, ordered to pay £10,909.

No orders were made against Jim Devine, 58, former Labour MP for Livingston, after the court was told that he was bankrupt.

“In the case of Devine different considerations apply. He is bankrupt,” Mr Justice Saunders said. “It seems unlikely that he will have anything left by the time all his debts are paid off.”

Mr Justice Saunders said in his ruling: “At a time when there is concern at the size of legal aid expenditure, there is no reason in principle why the taxpayer should pay for the legal representation of people who can afford to pay for themselves.”

Morley, of West Street, Winterton, Lincolnshire, was jailed in May for fiddling his Parliamentary expenses to the tune of £30,000.

Illsley, of Westmoor Crescent, Pogmoor, Barnsley, received a 12-month sentence in February for £14,500-worth of fraudulent expenses relating to claims made for his second home between 2005 and 2008.

Chaytor, of Lumbutts, Todmorden, was sentenced to 18 months in jail after pleading guilty to false accounting totalling £18,350.

Devine, of West Main Street, Bathgate, West Lothian, was jailed for 16 months in May for submitting false invoices totalling £8,385 between 2008 and 2009.

All four former MPs have since been released under the home detention curfew scheme. None was present for yesterday’s hearing.

A spokesman for the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group welcomed the decision, saying: “Taxpayers will be glad that common sense has prevailed, and guilty MPs who abused their expenses have to pay back legal aid.

“Families shouldn’t have to pick up the bill for a failed defence against charges for ripping them off.”

Mr Justice Saunders said it would not be reasonable for a legal costs order to include the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court costs of pursuing the legal point of whether the former MPs were exempt from prosecution in a criminal court under Parliamentary privilege.

“The question of privilege did raise difficult issues of law and although the defendants were unsuccessful in all courts that does not mean that it was not an important point of law, as it was described in the Supreme Court, and required resolution,” he said.

Louis Weston, counsel for the Legal Services Commission (LSC), said Illsley’s defence costs were £10,909, Devine’s were £75,216, with Morley’s standing at £77,980 and Chaytor’s at £80,932.

Chaytor, Morley and Devine had all pursued the issue of Parliamentary privilege but Illsley had not.

Owen Mapley, LSC interim chief executive, said: “The LSC sought these costs because legal aid is taxpayers’ money and we believe that those who can afford to pay towards their defence costs should pay.

“It’s worth remembering that by bringing these proceedings we have ensured that a significant amount of the legal aid costs will be paid for by these individuals.”

He added: “Between 2005 and 2011, we have recovered £11.3m in defence costs following crown court trials.

“We are committed to ensuring that legal aid is spent on those who most need help with their legal problems but can least afford it.”

Earlier this week the Government revealed their plans for dealing with MPs guilty of serious wrong-doing.

The proposals would see elected members lose their seats if 10 per cent of voters in their constituencies signed a petition to “recall” them.

A recall petition could be triggered by a vote in the House of Commons or by an MP being sentenced to prison for 12 months or less.

The plans tighten up the current rules, which allow MPs to keep their seats unless they are jailed for more than a year.

The challenged MP would still be free to seek re-election in the subsequent poll, whether under a party banner or as an independent.