- AuthorDavid Lawrence
Much has already been written about the scandal of Members of Parliament abusing their position in claiming expenses, which in many cases involve living expenses. Significant “errors” appear to have been made by a number of MPs and, in a handful of cases there have also been prosecutions where dishonesty has been shown. Sadly, some MPs are still suspected of abusing the system of expenses.
Interesting comparisons may be drawn with ordinary members of the public accused of taking money from their employers. First, it is likely that the police will become immediately involved and that such a person will be arrested, detained and interviewed at a designated police station. They may well see the inside of a police cell.
If there is evidence of dishonesty, and money has been taken from an employer, the employee is likely to be charged with a criminal offence, probably theft, but it will depend upon the circumstances. At Court, the Magistrates will be asked to determine whether in the event of a trial, the venue should be the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. Guidelines suggest that even in the absence of aggravating factors, if theft of £2,000 or more is alleged to have been taken in circumstances which amount to a breach of a high degree of trust (as frequently applies between employer and employee) the venue is likely to be the Crown Court. Similarly, if a guilty plea is entered, the Magistrates are likely to commit the case for sentence to the Crown Court. This is because the Magistrates’ maximum sentencing powers of six months imprisonment are likely to be exceeded. If a timely guilty plea is entered, then a discount of about one third is likely to be applied to any sentence given as against the sentence to be passed if convicted by a jury following trial.
The sentencing guidelines for theft in breach of trust suggest that immediate custody should be imposed, but the sentencing range will vary between a community order and 12 months custody for thefts of between £2,000 and £20,000 or possibly less if there is a particularly high degree of trust involved. For thefts of between £20,000 and £125,000 (or possibly less than £20,000 in case of a high degree of trust) then custody of between 1 and 3 years can be expected with a starting point of 2 years. Sums greater than this will attract even higher immediate custodial sentences, and in all cases, the sentence is likely to be towards the higher end of the sentencing range if it can be shown that the course of offending extended over a long period.
Some may say that compared with members of the public accused of theft, MPs who have transgressed have got off rather lightly.