Above the Law?

I am more than a little amused by the hullabaloo caused by the arrest of the Tory MP Damian Green and the subsequent search of his house and offices.

First off what right have these people got to start blabbing in public about an ongoing investigation? No doubt if Green is charged and went to trial his brief would be up and belly aching about not getting a fair trial due to media coverage.

Secondly he has apparently been leaking highly sensitive documents which were illegally passed to him.  These papers weren’t just leaked by anyon, but  by a conservative party activist who has apparently worked for Mr Green in the past and has actually applied for a permanent post with him.   Now I am no ace detective, but that relationship strikes me as bieng more that a little bit fishy in itself.

Now then, the law says you cannot go round stealing sensitive documents and passing them around willy nilly.    You may remember that at the time of the Falklands war there was a civil servant called Clive Ponting who leaked the documents pertaining to the sinking of the Argentine battle cruiser The Belgrano to the Welsh Labour MP Tam Dyall.  Mrs Thatched had Ponting hounded down and prosecuted only for him to be acquitted.  She also wanted Mr Dyall prosecuted but everyone got cold feet.  Mr Dyalls defence was that he was doing his duty as an oppositon MP to question the governments version of events in the South Atlantic.

It was Pontings aquital and Dyalls role as an MP which prompted the then Conservative government to tighten up the UK secrets legislation with the introduction of the 1989 Official Secrets Act and removing the public interest defence which Ponting had successfully used to avoid being convicted.Mr Green is claiming he leaked the papers he had been passed because it was in the public interest.  Now whilst Paliamntry Privilege gives MPs certain rights and protection it does not cover handling stolen goods which is in effect wht these papers are.

Handling stolen goods is very naughty as is being a bad boy in a public office.  If you go round breaking the law or being suspected of being nauhgty you run the risk that the boys in blue will come round and feel your collar and ask you all sorts of difficult questions.   PLUS having arrested you, they can quite legally search your premises for relevant information.

Having been arrested and having had my home and business premises searched on several occassions I want to know why Mr Camerron or all the other MPOS who are bellyaching have never never leapt to my defence and asked the police to explain themselves.  I feel hurt very second rate.

Anyway since when has there been a law saying MPs cannot be nicked if they are suspected of breaking the law or that their offices and homes cannot be searched.  I have had a look at the various legislation and cannot see Parliament or MPs as an exception and why should they be above the law?

However the bit that really gets me thinking is why are all these politicians from all parties getting upset.  Is it because they could be arrested and their premises searched?  What are they hiding I wonder.? I am always suspicious when people start answering the questions they haven’t been asked.

Maybe PC Plod should spin all their offices.  I wonder how many Gary Glitters and Clive Pontings they would turn up.  By the hue and cry quite a lot I suspect.

6 Responses to “Above the Law?”

  1. Paul James says:

    “Secondly he has apparently been leaking highly sensitive documents which were illegally passed to him.”

    Neither sensitive (not covered by OSA, “classified”, and thus documents that could – via the correct channels – be obtained through a FOI request), nor illegally passed (the act of passing non-classified material is a contractual issue between the civil servant in question and the HO). It would have been illegal to be passed the original documents also (technically theft), but somehow I don’t think they would be that stupid to use copies instead of originals, and I haven’t read of anyone suggesting that until now.

    You later refer to Clive Ponting. The difference is that such disclosures were matters of national security.

    You then state that public interest is no defence in the OSA. Well to a point, but there is an overriding duty to expose criminal activity, even if such information is “classified”; that is the basis of a “defence of necessity” being potentially available, as thrown up via the Shayler case in 2001.

    “These papers weren’t just leaked by anon, but by a conservative party activist who has apparently worked for Mr Green in the past”
    Nope. They were leaked by someone who was rejected when he applied to Mr Green for employment. “Sorry, I dont want to employ you. But be useful and steal me these important documents”? Doesn’t seem likely, somehow.

    “Having been arrested and having had my home and business premises searched on several occasions I want to know why…”
    There is a key difference. You are not an MP. MPs are elected and paid to represent their constituents in Parliament to the government. MPs are the balance to the executive (the government) within British democracy, it is their duty (irrespective of party!) to hold the government to account. To do this, they must receive information from a wide array of sources, and it is their job to raise grievances with the necessary executive authority.

    The correspondence they receive is uniquely privileged (in a way that legal advice and medical records, for example, are not). The police raiding and confiscating the private papers of an MP is highly dangerous to democracy, as the Police are an instrument of the executive. No longer is the MPs correspondence private. What if an authoritarian government were to desire to discover its critics or the hostile sources of an MP in order to silence them? There must be safeguards in place to stop that, and it is the apparent lack of effective safeguards in this instance that have caused such a furore.

    “Anyway since when has there been a law saying MPs cannot be nicked if they are suspected of breaking the law or that their offices and homes cannot be searched. ”
    They can be arrested. Their homes can be searched, but not without a warrant (unless they were arrested at home). But their offices at the Palace of Westminster cannot legally be searched without the acquiescence of the authorities of the House (it is “off limits” to the Police, without the necessary permission). Again, this is further reason for the outcry: House authorities agreed to the search, but on what grounds? There is current speculation that Police deliberately misled the hapless officials in order to obtain the required permission.

  2. Andy says:

    Sorry Norman, I have to disagree with you on this one. MPs are subject to the law as is any subject of HM. But and its a big but, Parliamentary privelege allows all MPs of any colour to a) hold the Exectutive to account using whatever information comes their way (and let’s face it they’ve always done it) and b) ensure that any correspondence between themselves and their consituents is confidential. These priveleges were established in reign of Charles 1 and I think are well worth preserving. In this case the Speaker, the Sarjent at Arms and the rozzers seem to have ignored this.

    Anyway, interesting post as always!
    Andy

  3. JH says:

    Norm tried to post this comment and it got blocked trying again.

    I am sort of with you on this in that yes I think they consider themselves above the law and if they have nothing to hide why get so upset. What strikes me is that in this day and age when the police are under fire from every section of the community and media they must have known what a stink this was going to cause and so must have had more than reasonable grounds to do what they did. No smoke without fire. I suppose if the MP is handling what is in effect stolen goods ie stolen papers then he is in play. However I dont agree with your comparison to the Ponting case as a)Ponting was not an MP and b) there was a considered National security aspect to his case at the time. It is an interesting point by Andy though. I am a bit rusty on the scope of Parliamentary Privilege. I thought it applied to things like freedom of speech and what they said which meant they were immune from prosecution. However as I understand it, an MP is not immune from prosecution for criminal acts and acts from outside parliament itself which I always thought was the Palace of Westminster. No doubt more hot air will be blown on this before the week is out.

  4. Uncle says:

    Hello chaps and thanks for the comments even if you don’t agree with me. We still have free speech unlike many countries and healthy debate never hurt anyone. Always happy to hear other peoples views and to get a different perspective on things.

    The main point of my question was do some MPs think they are above the law. Sadly I think the answer is yes. I believe that they abuse certain aspects of Parliamentary Privilege and use it as a smoke screen.

    In government and the civil service there are ways of doing things, rules, channels you go through and protocols to be observed and followed. If you choose not to abide by the rules then you know you are in the wrong.

    Paul – Thanks very much for your points. You and Andy both raise valid points about the accountability of government and the role of the opposition and I heartily agree with that. Furthermore, from what I understand about the content of some of the papers leaked they did in deed contain things that should be made public and the Government should be called to answer before Parliament. I stress in Parliament and not in a newspaper.

    Having been made aware of the contents of the various documents why didn’t Green go through the proper channels to get the papers. These papers were apparently restricted, but you make the point that as an opposition MP he would probably be given access if he had applied for it. But he didn’t ask for access did he. Had he done so and such a request was refused he could have asked why and followed the appropriate disclosure protocol.

    Having got the information why did he leak these paper to a journalist rather than bring the matter to the attention of Parliament. He is an MP first and foremost not a journalists informant. Maybe he was getting paid by the paper and he forgot about his daytime job at Westminster.

    Parliamentary Privilege does not make MPs immune for arrest for criminal matters and Mr Green was certainly under arrest as part of criminal investigation.

    The police did not need a warrant. Under section 18 of The police and Criminal Evidence Act police have a right to enter and search any premises under the control of a person arrested for a serious arrestable offence. The offence Mr Green is being investigated for is a serious arrestable offence and although there are certain additional rules relating to legal privilege from what I understand these do not seem to include MPs and their offices in Parliament.

    I am not sure what Shayler has to do with it. As I recall his defence was ruled totally irrelevant and he was convicted under the 1989 OSA, but I have to confess to not having studied his case in any great depth. Although as a point of interest apparently he has done a David Ike and now claims to be the last incarnation of the Holy Ghost ie God incarnated as spirit and man.

    Andy – I take your point and appreciate fully how the parliament must be able to hold the government accountable and as I have said I fully support that. It is the MPs definition of accountability that concerns me. They seem to want it always. MPs are supposedly accountable to us the electorate, but who investigates allegations of wrong doings by them?

    Green is a suspect in a criminal investigation he is not immune under Parliamentary Privilege from arrest. As it is he by passed parliament process in this case and I suppose it could be argued does not benefit the protection it affords.

    It is the conduct of a lot of the other MPs that has got me baffled. Does it not strike you as being odd, that rather than conducting themselves in a professional manner and waiting to see the out come of the police investigation they are all running about shouting their mouths off, even threatening to disrupt the State Opening of Parliament. How childish

    JH – A good point re the police not wanting to charge head long into the firing line. It will be interesting if we ever get to see what the papers were and what prompted the use of the Anti Terrorist squad. Their remit is encompassed in the title after all. I suppose we will have to wait and see. As for Parliamentary Privilege I found the following articles on t’internet.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliamentary_privilege

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/82536.stm

    I believe Ponting was right to be arrested and prosecuted as he knew the full nature and consequences of his actions before he embarked on them. The same applies to the civil servant in this case. He should be made to justify his actions in a court of law.

    As for Mr Green I would like to know why he felt he had to use underhand methods to obtain his information and why he did not use parliament to voice his concerns about the matters raised.

    I reckon you are right though, there will be more hot air on this, but not by me.

    Later dudes and thanks again for all your thoughts.

  5. dl says:

    (Ditto JH’s first line, above).

    Hi UN.

    Was going to jump into the fray here, but others have already done so much more rigorously than I would have done. Very briefly, though, the couple of points I was going to make were:

    1. I’m not sure that Green’s actually done anything illegal. Clearly, this is subject to an ongoing investigation, and we’ll all know the truth sooner or later. However, I’d be very surprised if they’re able to get anything to stick.

    2. I’m very surprised at the police action, and the fact that the Government claimed to know nothing about it. In the dim and distant past, I worked in an area where we sometime wanted to take a peek at what certain folk were up to. However, if one of those folks were an MP, we had to go all the way to the very top for authorsiation. Maybe things have changed, or maybe the police don’t have such rigorous controls – I don’t know either way. But CDF says that it’s certain to cause a stink, so it would be a good plan to cover your back by involving some or other higher authority.

    For what it’s worth.

    Best wishes,
    D.

  6. Uncle says:

    DL – Thanks for your comment which is valued as always, sorry you had a problem posting – it’s something to do with an anti spam crawler.

    Back to the matter in hand. Re your first point I have to disagree. Why did Green not go through the proper channels to get the papers and secondly having got them why did he choose to leak them to a journalist and thus by pass the parliamentary procedures which they are all claiming to be so precious? I feel that these MPs just do what they want. Blair and the others were no different in misleading Parliament and the country about the WMD etc. The thing is they all stick together no matter which party they belong to and get away with every time.

    Re your second point I would have to agree with JH and just cannot imagine the individual police officers wanting to put themselves in to the firing line. After all we have seen what support the police don’t get from politicians. Can you imagine going into work and some senior office saying “right then, DL and Norm just pop down and nick this MP and spin his offices at the commons will you?” Bearing in mind that the power of arrest is discretionary and the arresting officer has to justify his actions, I think I would want to make sure I was on firm ground and that I was not setting myself up as cannon fodder.

    I understand all the arguments about privilege etc but when that is abused maybe there should be a change.

    I would like all MPs to be more accountable and open to closer scrutiny. They cannot be trusted to do it themselves and it is not the role of the police. I would like to see an independent properly empowered body set up to ensure proper practice is adhered to and allegations of wrong doing are impartially investigated a bit like the IPCC who investigate complaints against the police.

    All the best UN

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