Law Report: Former MEP can be prosecuted over expenses: Regina v Manchester Crown Court, Ex parte Director of Public Prosecutions. Queen's Bench Divisional Court (Lord Justice Leggatt and Mr Justice Pill), 2 July 1992

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A decision to quash an indictment on the ground that the Crown Court had no jurisdiction to entertain criminal proceedings against the defendant is not a matter 'relating to trial on indictment' since the decision went to existence of the Crown Court's jurisdiction rather than the exercise of that jurisdiction. It can therefore be challenged in proceedings for judicial review. A former member of the European Parliament can be prosecuted in the national court of the member state for criminal offences of obtaining by dishonesty expenses from the Parliament.

The Divisional Court granted an application by the DPP for judicial review of an order made by Mr Justice Morland at Manchester Crown Court whereby he quashed an indictment in the case of R v Leslie John Huckfield, Trevor William Ennis and James Dowd.

Mr Huckfield, a member of the European Parliament from 1984 to 1989, was committed for trial on the indictment, which charged him with two counts of dishonestly obtaining by deception cheques in respect of expenses from the then treasurer of the British Labour Group of the European Parliament.

Mr Justice Morland quashed the indictment, holding that the Crown Court had no jurisdiction to entertain proceedings against Mr Huckfield, as a former MEP, on the grounds that the exercise of jurisdiction would result in an infringement of the sovereignty of the Parliament because the court would have to interpret rules of the Parliament, and that the prosecution would offend the principle of comity because the Parliament had a procedure of its own, albeit not of a criminal nature, for dealing with the improper payment of expenses.

Gerald Barling QC, Presiley Baxendale QC, and Stephen Richards (CPS) for the DPP; Richard Plender QC, and Edward Fitzgerald (Christian Fisher & Co) for Huckfield; Geoffrey Robertson QC, and Gavin Millar (David Phillips & Partners, Liverpool) for Ennis and Dowd.

LORD JUSTICE LEGGATT said that the first issue was whether the Divisional Court had jurisdiction to review the judge's decision to quash the indictment in the light of section 29(3) of the Supreme Court Act 1981, which provides: 'In relation to the jurisdiction of the Crown Court, other than its jurisdiction in matters relating to trial on indictment, the High Court shall have all such jurisdiction to make orders of mandamus, prohibition of certiorari as the High Court possesses in relation to the jurisdiction of an inferior court.'

Looking at the words of the subsection without the benefit of authority, it would be difficult to say that the quashing of an indictment was not a matter 'relating to trial on indictment'.

But the stress laid by the House of Lords in Re Smalley (1985) AC 622 and Re Sampson (1987) 1 WLR 194 to the 'conduct of the trial' and 'the trial process' showed that weight must be given to the actual trial.

That accounted for decisions of the Divisional Court that applications to stay were amenable to judicial review.

The court had held that such applications did not affect the conduct of a trial, and so did not relate to trial on indictment, because if granted they would permanently prevent the trial from taking place.

In R v Norwich Crown Court, Ex p Belsham (1992) 1 WLR 54 the Divisional Court remarked that a motion to quash an indictment directed to the framing of the indictment was part and parcel of the trial process. Here the application to the court was that it should decline jurisdiction.

The 1981 Act did not have the effect of rendering immune from judicial review the very question whether the court had jurisdiction as distinct from the manner of its exercise.

It would not make for the orderly conduct of the law if the determination of individual judges of the Crown Court that Community law prohibited criminal proceedings of a particular kind were immune from challenge and so from supervision. The Divisional Court had jurisdiction to entertain the motion for judicial review.

Turning to whether the Crown Court's jurisdiction was precluded as a matter of Community law, the European Parliament was not sovereign but was autonomous. The validity of the rules of the Parliament and of its political groups about expenses was not challenged.

Since the validity of the rules of the Parliament could be referred for interpretation to the European Court of Justice the fact that national proceedings might give rise to the need to interpret them could not deprive the national court of jurisdiction.

There was nothing about the conduct of the proposed prosecution which would or might detract from the autonomy of the Parliament.

On the issue of comity, since there was no provision of Community law which exempted an MEP from criminal liability and there was no way in which the Parliament could take criminal proceedings against him, it could not be said that prosecution by a national authority was unwarranted or exceptionable, let alone wholly improper.

The Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Communities defined precisely the immunities from legal proceedings, including criminal proceedings, to which an MEP was entitled. No express provision for immunity applied in this case.

Member states were entitled to prosecute an MEP or former MEP for criminal offences of obtaining by dishonesty expenses from the Parliament. The question whether they were obtained by dishonesty was a question of national law, which was capable of being raised by a prosecutor in criminal proceedings in a national court. It would be suprising if no criminal proceedings could be brought at all against a dishonest person simply because he was a former MEP. The judge's order would be quashed.

MR JUSTICE PILL concurred.