So Chris Huhne’s finished in politics then?
Well, probably, but not necessarily.
What do you mean? But who would vote for him?
Good question. But under s1 Representation of the People Act 1981 he is not barred from seeking election again.
This states :
A person found guilty of one or more offences (whether before or after the passing of this Act and whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere), and sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained indefinitely or for more than one year, shall be disqualified for membership of the House of Commons while detained anywhere in the British Islands or the Republic of Ireland in pursuance of the sentence or order or while unlawfully at large at a time when he would otherwise be so detained.
So, anyone who is in prison and serving more than 12 months cannot stand for election. If a sitting MP gets more than 12 months, then by virtue of s2 their seat will be vacated and a by-election called (there are also exemptions for people who are convicted of electoral offences).
So Chris Huhne could actually stand for Parliament from his cell. Certainly there is nothing to stop him from standing at the next General Election.
His sentence is lighter than that small band of politicians who have also been sentenced for similar offences, albeit for perjury as well as perverting the course of justice. Among them are: Jonathan Aitken (18 months), Jeffrey Archer (four years) and Tommy Sheridan (three years).
One would have thought that a conviction for anything, let alone perverting the course of justice or perjury, would be the end of anyone’s career. However, it appears that in 2004 some of Aitken’s former constituents let it be known that they wanted the convicted perjurer back.
The then Tory leader Michael Howard blocked the attempt but it appears Aitken would not have been disqualified in any case (see the Electoral Commission’s guidance for further details)
That’s fair enough, isn’t it?
It’s probably hard to argue in one sense. The history behind the provision perhaps isn’t as principled as it may appear. In 1981 Bobby Sands, an Irish Republican prisoner in HM prison Maze, went on hunger strike – a protest at the removal of his Special Cateogry Status. During the strike the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone died. Sands was then nominated and won the election. In response, Parliament rushed through the RPA 1981 so that no other hunger strikers could follow Sands’ lead.
The counter argument would be that provided the person is clear (and if they are a guest of Her Majesty, then it probably will be clear) then it is up to the people who they elect. If they choose to elect a prisoner, then, in a democracy, that’s their call.
What about the House of Lords?
Ah well, that’s different. They take anyone there. The only conviction that will bar you from sitting and voting is one for Treason (s2 Forfeiture Act 1870) and you don’t see many of those nowadays.
So Lords Archer (Perjury), Taylor and Hanningfield (Expenses) and (Conrad) Black (Multiple Frauds in the US) are some of the people who have done time in prison and are now free to go back to the red benches to make the law.
[Guest post by Russell Fraser and Dan Bunting]