Thomson moves to utilise law for stay on court case

THE independent federal MP Craig Thomson has attempted to delay his date with the criminal court over fraud and theft charges by relying on a little-known section of the Parliamentary Privileges Act.

Mr Thomson, who was arrested at his central coast electorate office on Thursday before being formally charged with 150 counts of fraud, has already gained a one-month stay on civil proceedings being brought by Fair Work Australia.

That action will play second fiddle to the potentially more serious criminal charges due to be heard in Melbourne next Wednesday.

However on Friday the MP's lawyer, Chris McArdle, sought a ruling from the Clerk of the House of Representatives arguing that MPs cannot be required to attend court when also required to be in Parliament.

The immunity is set out in section 14 of the Act, and is expanded on in the influential House of Representatives Practice.

''Section 14 provides that a Member of either House shall not be arrested or detained in a civil cause on any day on which the House of which he or she is a Member meets, on any day on which a committee of which he or she is a member meets, or on any day within five days before or after such days,'' it says.

If applicable, the immunity would delay Mr Thomson's appearance in court on the criminal matters until late February.

However, it remains unclear as to whether it would apply in Mr Thomson's case.

''Freedom from arrest in civil matters is one of the earliest privileges,'' the House Practice explains.

It says the ''the immunity is confined to civil arrest; there is no immunity from arrest for crime''.

Inquiries to the Clerk of the House of Representatives yielded a firm ''no comment''.

The timing of Mr Thomson's eventual appearance is just one of the pressure points being felt by Julia Gillard whom the opposition accuses of relying on numbers held in place via the presumption of innocence.

Next Tuesday will be the first day of Parliament bringing the Thomson saga into sharp focus. The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, again demanded that Ms Gillard forego Mr Thomson's ''tainted'' vote.

''Every day that the government continues to accept his vote is a day when the government continues to be under this dreadful ethical pall of the Health Services Union,'' he said during a campaign visit to Tasmania.

Mr Thomson has been charged with 150 counts of fraudulently using union funds to procure sexual services and other things during his time at the helm of the Health Services Union between 2002 and 2007.

He became a Labor MP in the federal seat of Dobell at the general election that year.

This story Thomson moves to utilise law for stay on court case first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.