By Campaign Agent Matthew Waterfield
A few weeks ago, the Labour MP for Peterborough, Fiona Onasanya, was charged with perverting the cause of justice, in relation to a speeding offence she allegedly committed and then tried to blame on someone else. And she isn’t the only MP in trouble with the law right now - the Conservative MP for Thanet South, Craig Mackinlay, is currently on trial for making false election expenses declarations during the 2015 election campaign.
But what usually happens when a Member of Parliament breaks the law? To answer this, it’s worth looking at previous examples of this and the consequences that followed.
Take the case of Chris Huhne for example. He was the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh and by 2012, he was also the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. However, after he left his wife for another woman, she told the press that he had pressured her into taking driving license penalty points for him (in a case similar to that facing Onasanya).
After the story was published in the press in 2011, the police began to investigate. In February 2012, Huhne was charged with perverting the course of justice, consequently resigning from the cabinet. Then, in February 2013, he pleaded guilty to the charges against him, and resigned as an MP- being appointed to the office of the Chiltern Hundreds.
Similar cases emerged out of the 2009 expenses scandal; some of the MPs who faced charges stood down at the 2010 election, like David Chaytor and Jim Devine, but others, such as Eric Illsley and Denis MacShane, didn’t resign until after the election, thus triggering by-elections (like with Huhne).
Although this doesn’t apply to all the MPs convicted of expenses related offences, some of them would’ve lost their seats even if they hadn’t resigned. Due to the Representation of the People Act 1981, any MP jailed for over a year anywhere in the British Isles is disqualified from sitting as an MP.
Thanks to the Recall of MPs Act 2015, MPs who break the law can also face by-elections triggered in their constituencies. This would occur if the Speaker decided to trigger the process after an MP was given a custodial prison sentence, even one shorter than a year.
Sources and Further Reading
- “Tory MP Craig Mackinlay denies election expenses charges”, BBC News (25 January 2018)
- Jim Waterson, “8 British Politicians Jailed Since The Last General Election”, Buzzfeed (23 December 2013)
- Brian Whelan, “Out of order: politicians who ended up behind bars”, 4 News (4 February 2013)
- Christopher Hope, “MPs' expenses: MPs can only be sacked from Commons if they are jailed for over a year”, The Telegraph (6 February 2010)
- Peter Walker, “Labour MP charged with perverting the course of justice”, The Guardian (25 July 2018)
Image: UK Parliament @flickr