Ex Labour Luton MP, Margaret Moran, was charged with 15 offences of false accounting and 6 of using a false instrument. During the Court process, she was deemed unfit to stand trial, but if there is such a finding, rather than the Defendant 'escaping' the process of the Court, there is a separate procedure called a 'trial of issue' in which the Defendant takes no part and does not attend Court when a jury hears the evidence of the prosecution and effectively tries the Defendant in their absence, deciding whether or not they feel the prosecution have sufficient evidence to prove the charges. The difference for the Defendant in this particular procedure is that there are only three sentences available to the Court if the case is found to be proved, namely a Supervision Order, a Hospital Order or an Absolute Discharge.
The Crown's allegations related to a number of claims for expenses during Ms Moran's term as an MP. The Court were told that Ms Moran had 'flipped' her two homes, changing which property was designated as her second home, allowing her to claim expenses on it and as a result of which she made a claim for treating dry rot of £22,500. The prosecution also said that she had claimed for 3 bedroom carpets at her 1-bedroom Westminster flat and £2,000 for a landline telephone that she did not have. Insofar as the false instrument charges are concerned, the Court were told that she changed the dates on invoices for work done so that she could claim the invoices as expenses. A 'fake' bill for over £4,000 showed a building firm's address which was actually a property belonging to an elderly couple. Once invoiced for over £14,000 relating to boiler repairs and work on her constituency home in Luton transpired to relate to work on her home in Southampton.
The prosecution told the jury that Ms Moran altered addresses to make it look as if she was making legitimate claims for her second home or constituency office when according to the prosecution they were to cover her personal costs. They said that she 'abused the scheme', going as far as to re-submit some expenses claims with different descriptions and supporting invoices when they had initially been rejected by Parliamentary authorities. She had made a claim of £47.00 for printing 50 Christmas cards, but her claim was refused. She then re-submitted a new invoice for the same amount but this time stating that it was for 'printing services'. A similar thing happened again in relation to birthday cards, later described as 'surgery cards'.
Jurors were also told that a builder completed dry rot treatment at her Southampton home between September 2007 and March 2008, which was prior to the property being designated her recognised second home, but a claim was subsequently submitted stating that the work had been completed at a different time to enable her to make her claim.
Ms Moran's expenses claims are the largest amount uncovered as part of the expenses scandal. Former Labour Minister, Elliot Morley, was jailed last year for dishonestly claiming in excess of £30,000 in expenses.
As a result of the jury's finding at the trial of issue, Ms Moran now stands to be sentenced at a future hearing. Mr Justice Saunders, the Judge dealing with the case at Southwark Crown Court, acknowledged that Ms Moran "is presently being treated by psychiatrists at home and that treatment will continue".
Trials of issue are relatively rare. A Court has to be satisfied having heard expert evidence that a person is not able to understand the Court proceedings to properly follow evidence being given in Court or to be able to properly instruct their lawyer. Many such applications are based on psychiatric evidence, but also there are some in relation to those who have particularly low IQ.
Insofar as the sentences available to the Court are concerned, a Supervision Order (what used to be referred to as a Probation Order) would involve the offender having to have regular meetings with the Probation Service and potentially attend on recommended courses run by the Probation Service, which may be deemed to be relevant to the offender's particular circumstances. A Hospital Order is an order made under the Mental Health Act, that someone is sufficiently mentally unwell that they need to be detained in a secure mental hospital and clearly this would be a sentence reserved only for the most serious cases. An Absolute Discharge is when the Court recognises that an offence has been committed, but feels that it is not necessary or appropriate to impose any 'punishment' on the offender.
The above is not legal advice, it is intended to provide information of general interest in current legal issues.