'Thieves' who think they're above the law: Three Labour MPs charged with expenses fraud argue a court has no right to put them on trial

Three Labour MPs at the centre of the expenses scandal tried to wriggle out of a criminal trial yesterday.
Although charged at Westminster magistrates' court with claiming a combined total of almost £60,000 in fraudulent expenses, they insisted the courts had no jurisdiction over them.
Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine argued that, under the 321-year-old Bill of Rights, they could be judged only by the House of Commons.

At first, they declined even to stand in the dock - until told in no uncertain terms by the judge that they must.


Their astonishing stance brought immediate criticism that, even after widespread public outrage, MPs 'still don't get it'.

But the three MPs - who deny the charges brought under the Theft Act - said they were not putting themselves above the law by claiming that trying them in a criminal court would infringe Parliamentary privilege, one of the founding principles of the UK constitution.

It was created in 1689 to protect MPs' freedom of speech after the civil war and upheavals of the 17th century.
Protestors outside the court, one dressed as Guy Fawkes and another as a pig, likened their statement to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein refusing to recognise the court that eventually found him guilty of murder.

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