How Green is My Jail Cell


12:03 pm - November 28th 2008

by Unity    


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The arrest of Shadow Immigration Minister, Damian Green, on suspicion of the common law offences of “conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office” and “aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” has sparked off an utterly predictable level of sound and fury in Tory ranks and, seemingly, a significant degree of bemusement amongst government ministers who, at least publicly, are professing to have known nothing of the Met’s decision to make an arrest in advance.

The official Tory line has very quickly coalesced around the idea that Green has been arrested, unfairly and unnecessarily, for actions that amount to nothing more than ‘doing his job’ as a Member of Parliament. David Cameron has called the arrest ‘heavyhanded’ and suggested that Green was arrested for simply releasing information that “the government didn’t want to be made public”.

On last night’s Question Time, George Osborne said:

“I think it’s absolutely extraordinary that the police have taken that decision.

“It has long been the case in our democracy that MPs have received information from civil servants – I think to hide information from the public is wrong.

“It is early days, it’s an extraordinary case. I think there are going to be some very, very big questions asked of the police.”

While Iain Dale chose to risk a hernia by attempting to face both ways at once, sounding a note of caution at the outset – ‘It’s always dangerous to comment on breaking news stories” – before barrelling headlong into a description of the arrest as “the tactics of a totalitarian state” before suggesting that Green’s only “crime” was that of revealing “Home Office statistics and misconduct which they tried to cover up.”

If that is genuinely all that this matter amounts to then, yes, there does seem to be cause for significant concern but, right now, we don’t know exactly what information may, or may not, have been passed to Green nor exactly what he did with the information did receive and, for that reason, its far too early to make any definite judgements as to the merits, or otherwise, of the Met’s actions. In the absence of that information, we must be very careful in assessing the merits of the Tory’s ‘only doing his job’ defence as this contention has yet to be supported by evidence, and we should also remember that, even allowing for the limited immunities that MP enjoy in regards to certain actions conducted within the precincts of Parliament,  no one, not even a Member of Parliament, is above the law, a principle laid down by parliament, itself, on the occasion of its bringing a reigning Monarch, Charles 1, to trial.

All we appear to have to go on, at this stage, is the BBC’s brief list of past Home Office leaks in which Green may, or may not, have had some involvement. Of these four leaks, only two look to unequivocally matter of legitimate public interest; one of which revealed that the the home secretary knew the Security Industry Authority had granted licences to 5,000 illegal workers, but had decided not to publicise it and another which disclosed the fact that an illegal immigrant had been employed as a cleaner in the House of Commons.

If it was only information of this kind that was passed to Green, then an incident which took place in 1938 provides an important historical precedent that should be taken into account.

In that year, Winston Churchill’s son-in-law and MP for Norwood, Duncan Sandys, was threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act by the Attorney General, Sir Donald Somervell (acting at the behest of Neville Chamberlain) after tabling parliamentary questions based on information derived from leaked documents to the then War Secretary, Leslie Hore-Belisha (as in Belisha beacons) in regards to deficiencies in Britain anti-aircraft defences. Sandys was informed, in a private meeting with Somervell, that he would face prosecution under the Act if he refused to reveal his source but chose, instead to fight back by taking the matter to the floor of the House, where a heated debate ensued, forcing Chamberlain into a compromise in which the case was referred to the all-party Committee on Privileges to determined whether the attempt to apply the Act to an MP constituted a breach of privilege…

…but not until after Churchill put in this telling intervention, informing the House that:

“The Official Secrets Act was devised to protect the national defense, and ought not to be used to shield Ministers who may have neglected that defense. It ought not to be used to shield Ministers who have a strong personal interest in concealing the truth about that from the country,”

The Committee on Privileges, which included Chamberlain, Churchil and Clement Attlee amongst its members, then very quickly determined that a the Attorney General actions were a breach of privilege and the matter was quietly dropped.

As a matter of basic principle, if information passed covertly by a civil servant to a Member of Parliament is of a kind that a minister should have brought parliament anyway, as in the matter of Security Industry Authority licences, then there should be no question either that the information is of legitimate public interest or that, following the Sandys precendent, that Green’s right to parliamentary privilege is fully engaged.

What may be rather more problematic here is if Green has any part in either to the other two leaks cited by the BBC – although it has to noted that neither has been confirmed as being relevant to this case.

One of these leaks relates to correspondence sent to Gordon Brown by Jacqui Smith, in which Smith warned that a recession could lead to a rise in crime. Such an option may be of considerable political interest, especially to the opposition, but its not entirely clear that Smith’s opinion is a matter of legitimate public interest, at least not unless it filters through into a government decision on a matter of policy or the allocation of public money, so if Green had any part in that leak then I fear he may well be on rather shakier ground than his party would care to admit. Consider, for example, how MPs reacted to the fear that the Freedom Of Information Act might compel them to disclose private correspondence regarding constituency casework matters and apply that line of reasoning to this example

However, its it final piece of leaked information cited by the BBC that could, were it be linked to Green, give him a serious problem – a list, compiled by Labour’s Whip’s Office of potential Labour rebels on the 42 days pre-charge detention vote. That is a (party) political matter that, while it may of interest to the public (and the oppostition, of course) is not a matter of legitimate public interest, not least at relates to the voting intentions of members of the legislature and not to a matter of government – although one hestiates to use the ‘W’ word (Watergate), the leaking of party political information to opposition members falls outside the legitimate scope of the public interest and amounts to political espionage.

I would hope that Green has not been stupid enough to accept information of that kind, but if he has and if, as the wording of one of the two charges implies, he may not only have a been passive recipient of leaked information but actually have taken an active part in soliciting and procuring information of that kind, then not only do the Tories protestations that he was only doing his job as MP ring extremely hollow but we have a major issue of political sleaze on out hand that Green, at the very least, will have problems wriggling out from under and which could easily engulf Conservative Central Office and the whole of its party machine if were to be shown that Green had passed information on to other ministers or to Tory HQ.

The Sandys case of seventy years ago does much to define the parameters of what actions an MP can legitimately take under the cover of parliamentary privilege when passed confidential information by a ‘whistleblowing’ public official, in as much as if the information received does relate to a matter of legitimate public interest and is disclosed in the course of an MP making use of the parliamentary channels open to him, then parliamentary privilege is engaged and Green has no case to answer.

What is much less certain, and certainly open to question, is whether that same privilege can be legitimately claimed where an MP receives information relating to party political rather than governmental matters or if an MP elects to place leaked information into the public domain by means that lie outside the avenues provided by parliament, i.e. by briefing or passing on leaked documents to the press. In such cases, the assertion that an MP was ‘only doing; his job must be buttressed by a legitimate claim on the public interest, and if it isn’t then the MP must face the consequences.

Even for an MP, ‘just doing my job’ is no more a valid defence than ‘I was only following orders’ unless the actions undertaken are in the legitimate pursuit of the public interest – any claim to parliamentary privilege must be consistent with the rule of law and not deployed mere as a means of circumventing it for nothing more than short-lived political advantage.

I do hope that Green is on the level here and has been circumspect in his dealings with this particular ‘whistleblower’ but if he hasn’t then the mere fact that he an MP is not a defence in its own right.

UPDATE

Having scooted round a few blogs, there are a couple of factual errors and misconceptions doing the rounds that need to put straight.

First, Green has NOT been arrested using ‘anti-terror laws’ as some are trying to suggest, he has been arrested on suspicion of committing a couple of common law offences which amount to nothing more the suggestion that he may have been involved in faciliating a breach of trust by a public official, i.e. petty corruption NOT terrorism.

As for what Green WAS arrested by officers from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, this is purely a matter of history coupled with a quirk arising from a recent Police reorganisation.

Because there’s the possibility that Green’s alleged source could be charged with an offence under the Official Secrets Act, responsbility for the investigation of this case falls to what used to be Special Branch, which has always held the responsibility for OSA cases since the very first such Act, which was passed in 1889.

However, in 2006, Special Branch was merged with the Met’s Anti-Terrorism Branch (which actually used be the investigative arm of Special Branch until it was separated off in 1972) to form a new Counter Terrorism Command.

Hence the arrival of a bunch of superannuated Plods on Green’s doorstep rather than the common or garden variety.

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'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments


And so, if Damian Green were to have received party-political leaks, that justifies the use of 7 anti-terrorist officers to arrest him, and hold him for nine hours before releasing him without charge? Really? For accepting civil service leaks? Remind me how Gordon Brown made his political name in the 1980s…

Isn’t the story here that the Mayor of London, one of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘bosses’ was informed, and that David Cameron, who has no formal role with the police at all was informed of the arrest prior to it happening, but that neither the Home Secretary nor the Police Minister nor apparently any minister at all was informed?

It’s almost unbelievable that they weren’t – because that would be a shocking abdication from common sense on the part of the Met. This is, clearly, a political crime. The Met tacitly accepted that much by informing David Cameron of the arrest. That they should not at the very least have informed the Home Office absolutely beggars belief. So either they didn’t, and a stratospheric misjudgement has been made. Or they did, and the Government has been economical with the actualite. Hard to say which scenario is more plausible really.

2. noughtpointzero

I love how your hisotiral presedent concerns information about warplanes in 1938, not long before the start of the second world war (and at a time when many believed war was not long away). I think most people would agree there is a slight difference between how we handle minister involved in leaks about immigration and those involved in leaks relating to war.

Strange as it might seem, why don’t we wait and see what develops before we all instantaneously rush to judgement?

Septicisle – yes, but there are only two possible answers to my basic question. Either the police did inform the Government and the Government are lying about it. Or the police didn’t inform the Government (but did inform Boris, and Cameron, and the Speaker and the Serjeant at Arms) in the which case the Met have gone nuts.

In either case, it’s a story.

Tim:

You’re verging on a conspiracy theory here, mate – calm down and think the political dynamics through.

1. This has all originated from complaint issued by someone at the Cabinet Office about leaks made by public officials.

2. On issuing the complaint, the government – or more likely the Sir Humphrey at the CO who forwarded the complaint to the Met – would have been perfectly aware that there was a possibility that an MP could be drawn into the investigation and of how the Opposition parties and their supported would react if it was of their’s that got pulled.

3. So, I would happily put money on the Met being told right at the outset that unless it was, perhaps, Cameron in the frame, they were not to notify Ministers in advance if they were planning to arrest an MP – Ministers can’t be economical with the truth when its a matter they know nothing about.

That doesn’t support the contention that this is a ‘political arrest’ unless the Met have gone into business for themselves, in which case you have to wonder quite what Green could have done to piss them off this badly (or demonstrate that the arresting officers are all members of Sir Ian Blair’s masonic lodge, or something). What it does support is the idea that someone in the Cabinet Office is smart enough to think about covering arses.

4. When the Met decided to pull Green in, they would have notified Cameron and Boris in advance out of a finely-tuned sense of self-preservation given that Boris is the Mayor of London and Cameron may the next PM. Even if you’ve got no choice but to crap in bosses/future bosses nest, the least you can do to cover your own arse is give them enough advance warning to get their story straight before the press starting jamming the phones.

5. As for whether it really needed 7 Plods to pull Green in, I don’t know…

How many do they usually send to arrest people implicated in an Official Secrets Act case?

At least a couple to make the arrest, plus another couple more (minimum) to carry out a search of the premises and make sure that Green didn’t get chance to start stuffing papers in the shredder and deleting files off his Crackberry.

If seven is the usual number for an arrest of this kind then seven’s what Green should have got, unless you’re suggesting that he should get preferential treatment from the Met just because he’s an MP.

And for strict accuracy, while Green hasn’t been charged – as yet – he is currently on Police bail.

As for holding him for nine hours, again, is that unusual in a case like this in which at least part of the reason for making the arrest is to keep the suspect out of the way while searches are carried out in order to prevent any tampering with evidence?

I don’t honestly know but I suspect not and that he’s probably spent less time cooling his hells in a cell than most punters…

In other words, before you start labelling this as being political and whining about the police being heavy-handed you really should establish that Green has been somehow treated in a disproportionately harsh manner compared to what routinely happens when the Police swoop on Joe Nobodies – equality before the law and all that.

Going by the MPS statement, the answer seems to be the latter:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7753763.stm

0.0:

I think most people would agree there is a slight difference between how we handle minister involved in leaks about immigration and those involved in leaks relating to war.

Not really – regardless of context, the Sandys precedent deals with the scope of parliamentary privilege where the government claims that a leaked constitutes a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

In so far as Green used parliamentary channels to place leaked information in the public domain, the validity of the government claim that the information should have been covered under OSA is immaterial as the 1938 Committee concluded that Sandys actions were privileged, making Green entitled to the same protection.

Unity,

I don’t see the same degree of peril in Green’s mooted decision to accept a list of potential Labour rebels from a leak, (presumably somewhere in the whips’ office rather than a civil servant). MPs do not vote by secret ballot and it is quite normal for opposition parties seeking to oppose the Government to try and reach out to potential rebels.

Frankly, I don’t see that seeking to obtain and make use of such a list is any more an abuse of democracy than the existence of the whips’ office itself. I certainly don’t see how the list could be subject to the Official Secrets Act.

As to your “medium risk” revelation – that Jacqui Smith told the PM that a recession might mean a rise in crime well, once again, such a letter might be confidential but it is scarcely explosive and certainly not subject to the OSA.

I am afraid that noughtpoint zero has you bang to rights on the difference between these leaks (which are the stuff of day to day politics even if they are not very edifying) and secrets about air defenses in the run up to WWII. Moreover, if I remember rightly Churchill himself put enormous pressure on War Ministry officials to leak to him information about the state of Britain’s preparedness in the run up to the war. If so, it would suggest that Churchill was not against leaks pers se, but had strong views about what you do with the information when you have it.

If there is no other information involved then the OSA drops away and, as I pointed out earlier, I don’t see how the lesser charge of Misconduct in a Public Office could be made to stick either.

Unless plod has something up his sleeve, I think he will have some explaining to do.

A thoughtful piece Unity but I still think Green’s arrest is problamatic and ultimately wrong. You could, for example, justify arresting me on the grounds I have seen the BNP member list couldnt you?? As you will probably know I take a similar line to you on the nature of the information that Green was leaking; I see as being in his own and his own parties interest.

I meant, of course “per se”

So wait – the police covered their arses by informing Cameron, thus allowing him to get his ducks in order, but didn’t tell anyone in Government? That sound plausible?

This wasn’t an Official Secrets Act case – it’s a ‘conspiracy to abet misfeasance in public office case’. And it’s a bit of a stretch to think that the first thing Green would do if he wasn’t swamped by 7 officers would be to destroy all evidence isn’t it?

What a load of pretentious waffle. You are scraping the bottom of the barrel to refer to an incident in 1938. Why argue that knowledge is limited -“its far too early to make any definite judgements”, but then go to extreme lengths to justify the actions of the State? When does anti-Tory become pro-Labour on this blog?

13. John Meredith

Astonishing on a ‘liberal’ blog speculation that it might be OK to arrest a journalist for receiving (or ‘procuring’) and publishing a list of rebel MPs prior to a vote. Oh, hang on, not a journalist, just a senior politician. But, logically, if it is OK to arrest the pol it would be OK to arrest the journo. In what sense does this site mean ‘liberal’, again? Someone remind me.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, described the move as “the most worrying development for many years”.

“Receiving information from government departments in the public interest and publicising it is a key part of any MP’s role,” he said. “This is the most worrying development for many years, with the potential to shift power even more conclusively from Parliament to the Government. It is also extraordinary considering Gordon Brown himself as Shadow Chancellor received and publicised many leaked official documents.”

>‘conspiracy to abet misfeasance in public office case’.

Misconduct, not misfeasance.

Apologies Matt – you’re right. Still not an OSA case. Certainly not an anti-terrorism case.

17. Peter Wilson

Aside from the fact it took at least 7 anti-terror officers to arrest a MP – why was he unlikely to come quietly? – this is a gross breach of parliament’s supremacy.

Police Officers representing the Crown have been allowed to enter Parliament to raid a MP’s office. This is tantamount to a constitutional crisis.

Aside from the fact it took at least 7 anti-terror officers to arrest a MP – why was he unlikely to come quietly?

You can’t, reasonably, do it that way. The police should send exactly the same resources to deal with Green as they would dealing with an ordinary member of the public suspected of breaching the OSA (and the fact that Special Branch, or CTC as they’re now called, led the investigation shows pretty clearly that this was considered to be an OSA case). No idea whether that’d be 7 officers – but if they’re taking him to the station and searching his premises, then it doesn’t sound obviously ridiculous.

(if they would normally have sent a smaller squad and are just grandstanding here, then of course that’s wrong and heads should roll.)

19. Fellow Traveller

Funny Mr Unity should mention Charles I in connection with this case:

On 4 January 1642 he entered Parliament with a body of armed men in search of five members of the Commons and one of the Lords whom he had identified as the principle architects of his troubles. He had intended to try them for treason on seven counts: attempting the subversion of the laws of the kingdom and depriving the King of his regal power; attempting to alienate the people from their King; attempting to draw the army from its obedience to the King; inviting and encouraging a foreign power (Scotland) to invade; attempting to subvert the right ‘and the very being of Parliaments’; in order to do this, attempting ‘by force and terror to compel the Parliament to join with them in their traitorous designs, and to that end have actually raised and countenanced tumults against the King and Parliament’; and conspiring to levy, and actually levying, war against the King.

…Famously, when Charles arrived the birds had flown, forewarned that something was up. This ensured that the coup was a failure, and left the Commons free to express its unrestrained outrage at this invasion of its privileges. The declaration ‘touching a late breach of their privileges’ made no bones that the King had come to Parliament with ‘many soldiers, Papists and others, to the number of about five hundred.’

God’s Fury, England’s Fire Michael Braddick p 179 Penguin 2008

This was a very low quality post – kneejerk anti-Tory, which is what more and more of LC is becoming.

Tony Benn – for whom (surprise!) I have no time other than for his lifelong championing of the supremacy of the House of Commons with which I wholeheartedly agree – was on the radio this afternoon suggesting that there might be a case against the police on the grounds of “contempt of parliament”. That the Speaker was informed but obviously kicked up no fuss reinforces the conventional view of his weakness and/or partisan approach.

Surely the main point that here is that this is *yet another* example of the misuse of anti-terrorist legislation.

Quite, quite extraordinary.

cjcj,

But is it factually correct that anti-terror legislation was used?? To be totally fair this is not the only post I have seen questioning that…and I simply dont agree that MP’s should be free to do as they please because they are MP’s…so what??

cjcj,

Incidentally, if you are going to say something is knee-jerk youd do a hell of alot better if you used the facts not responded with your own knee back…

No anti-terror legislation was apparently used – it was a breach of a common law offence. There has not, yet, been any assertion that there was any breach of the OSA – that’s a separate offence.

Essentially Green was arrested for embarassing the Government by receiving leaked information – something that every opposition party has done for a hundred years. Either the police did inform the Government – and everyone insists that they didn’t – or they did it off their own bat. The second possibility is even more worrying than the first.

Tim J,

Agreed. Can you prove that when the Home Office called the police in they were expecting it to lead to Green?? If you cant then you cant exactly prove that the government ordered this; all you can prove is that the police’s independant investigation lead them to conclude was actively engaged in encouraging somebody else to give him this information….

Has anyone actually seen anything to suggest that Green’s investigation has anything to do with a breach of the official secrets act?

Because the OSA covers a very limited number of classes of information, and none of the leaks reported to be at the centre of this story would appear to fall into any of them. And if the OSA is not at issue then what are the CTC doing getting involved?

26. Fellow Traveller

Interestingly, Mr Unity published ,on January 26 2006 at his own blog, the ‘full and unexpurgated text’ of a leaked Foreign Office memo concerning Her Majesty’s government’s position on ‘extraordinary rendition’.

Ignore the fore-going, I started writing before TIm J’s post @ 24 and then had to answer the phone

No of course I can’t – and I’m not claiming that this arrest was ordered by the Government – though it’s not entirely impossible. After all, the Home Office knew what had been leaked, and knew which shadow minister had gone to the press with it.

In any event, there are problems even if the whole thing was carried out at arms length. Unity told me, basically, to calm down dear and that this wasn’t a ‘political crime’. But the thing is that Green has been arrested for receiving leaks of political, and party-political documents. The nature of this crime is itself political. That should have been enough for the Met to consult their political bosses before proceeding. After all, they did just that with one of their bosses, Boris Johnson. That they didn’t suggests serious problems in command & control in the Met police. Which is, ultimately, the responsibility of the Home Office.

Still, I suppose he’s lucky really. After all he was only held without charge for 9 hours, not 90 days, and he wasn’t shot in the face at all.

29. Fellow Traveller

After discussing the background to the Clive Ponting ‘Sink the Belgrano’ affair, Mr Unity, in relation to the al jazeera memo (remember that leak which resulted in the imprisonment of two Civil Servants after successful prosecution under the Official Secrets [1989] Act – no you probably don’t), concluded on his blog entry Credit where none is due:

Today, much of this is of purely academic interest except for what happened next. Having lost the case against Ponting because a jury or ordinary citizens took the interests of government and State are not alway synonymous – a view supported by, amongst others, Winston Churchill who was of the clear opinion that the Official Secret Act was solely to secure the interests of the State and should not be used to cover the collective arses of the government from self-inflicted embarassments – the government of the day introduced the 1989 Act, which is now being used to suppress press coverage of the memo.

And that is the real scandal here, not simply that the 1989 Act has enabled the supression of information that is clearly in the public interest but that the very Act being used is one which came about as a result of a defeat in court to which the government of the day responded by changing the rules to suit its own interest and at the expense of the interests of citizens.

Fellow,

Can you please explain to me how who cleans the toilets at the House of Commons is ‘clearly in the public interest’? (I am referring to the second leak about the ‘illegal’ being employed as a HOC cleaner…

I rather think that’s the point he’s making…

“Interestingly, Mr Unity published ,on January 26 2006 at his own blog, the ‘full and unexpurgated text’ of a leaked Foreign Office memo concerning Her Majesty’s government’s position on ‘extraordinary rendition’”

Uh-oh! Has he been taken out to lunch by Alistair Campbell recently?

Darrell, to play devils advocate, but at the time weren’t there a lot of discussions about british jobs for british workers, or tightening up against illegal immigrants or something? I remember the case in hand being quite pertinent to the atmosphere at the time…

Tim J,

Maybe lol…my point is that I defend Greens right to do what he did without being arrested but that doesnt mean I actually have to defend or agree with what he did and I certainly dont intend to legitimise what he did as being in ‘the public interest’….

Lee,

Well I did say on my blog i’m actually surprised Phil Woolas didnt pick it up…yes there was but that’s what makes what Green did deeply contemptible in my eyes; and that has been the crux of my whole point…I think civil liberties do not make sense unless a defence of them is somewhat consistent and at this juncture there is nothing wrong with turning round and saying the Tories are not consistent champions of civil liberties both because if they were in power they’d probably do something similar and b because there policy positions on other issues put them at loggerheads with a civil liberties agenda….

This rather harks back to the debate we had about David Davis; for me the term civil liberties doesnt make much sense if it is not applied in a broader social context that is much wider than for example, rejecting ID cards…on a broad spectrum of issues there are links. Earlier I gave the example of immigration controls….i’m not arguing that what happened was good or right but neither has David Cameron or Damien Green suddenly become ‘freedom fighters’…..

Well…then how wasn’t it in the public interest in your eyes? There was an atmosphere about the legitimacy of people in jobs, and someone pointed out that in the house of commons there was an illegal immigrant working there. I mean, level of job and everything is pretty non-debatable when it comes to the environment of the time, no?

Am I right in summarising Darrell’s position as being – Green should not be arrested for what he did, even though he (Darrell) disagrees with it?

That seems a perfectly reasonable position.

Lee,

Because its opportunist clap-trap pandering to peoples prejeudices – ‘those damn illegal aliens are everywhere, even in the HOC’ is the subtext – to score a add a few points in the polls?? It reminds me of the scene from Final Cut when Francis Urqhart proposes a ‘single langugage for Europe’ and when is questioned about it says of course he isnt in favour but it will be worth a ‘few points in the polls’…

cjcjcj,

Pretty much ye lol…I think this issue does raise issues that are necessarily wider than the case in hand (which I think we have totally established does not directly involve anti-terror legislation) about whether the legislative enviroment we are creating is one of excessive police power and although I doubt very much the government ordered this arrest it is responsible for creating a legislative framework and making sure accountability is in place….unity has given us a perfectly concrete reason why anti-terror police were involved which within itself makes sense…what we need to be asking ourselves is does it work and the answer I always come back to is no…

I rather feel that the loser out of this will end up being the political system actually because while people will wonder at Labours lack of openness they will also wonder at Greens methods. In conclusion I dont agree with the methods that Green may or may not have (if he actively solicited the information) used; I dont agree that this information was ‘in the public interest’; I dont agree with the politics behind the release of it but neither do I agree with the arrest or the legislative envrioment within which this happened…

This is worth reading wrt the specific law which was used to justify the raids/arrest.

Not good.

http://timesonline.typepad.com/politics/2008/11/damian-green–.html

Boris is also Chairman of the MPA, so ultimately has at least a partial hand in the Met’s affairs. This is why they would have tipped him off – never mind future Tory administrations, there’s one now in London.

His reaction is (or should be) limited to making loud noises and jumping up and down, though – anyone care to speculate the results of him interfering in an ongoing police investigation into a member of his own party? If CCHQ aren’t already on the blower to him advising extreme caution they’re falling down on the job.

I have to say I would be interested what the Conservatives who contribute here do have to say about the rumours doing the rounds on the blogsphere that they have footage of the search.

Martin – he was detained without being questioned for 7 hours. I suspect that *that* is why he was there so long, rather than this mysterious member of his party.

And to think this site claims to be “liberal”. Laughable.

This site proclaims to represent the views of both liberal and left political opinion.

Many writer are of a “liberal” persuasion. Some are not – they represent the more leftish socialist perspective.

The title of the site, as discussed in the site’s remit, is slightly ironic. Please remember that.

Because its opportunist clap-trap pandering to peoples prejeudices – ‘those damn illegal aliens are everywhere, even in the HOC’ is the subtext – to score a add a few points in the polls?

But there was still a legitimate public interest in the information being released. I don’t think that is nullified just because some people might use it to further an unpleasant agenda. The Mail and Express will tell lies about immigration anyway, regardless of what genuine information is in the public domain.

Andrew,

Indulge me. Tell me how that information has any bearing on public policy or the governance of this country??

Darrell, well firstly I think the onus should be on those who want to keep such information secret to justify why it should be so and I don’t see any such justification. But as you ask the question, I think that if the vetting procedure for people working at the HoC is so lax that they employ someone not legally entitled to work in this country then that is a clear security risk and I believe that’s a matter for public concern.

Andrew,

And the status of ‘illegal immigrant’ has nothing to do with the leakers status of shadow *immigration minister* who leaks the information in the full knowledge that there are plenty of bored Daily Mail headline writers out there desperate for copy which can lead to a forthing at the mouth call for tighter immigration controls?? Maybe i’m just cynical….

In reality this leak had nothing to do with wanting to highlight lax recruitment practises and you know it…a mistake happened and I am sure none of our prescious MP’s are any less safer for it,….

“In reality this leak had nothing to do with wanting to highlight lax recruitment practises and you know it…a mistake happened and I am sure none of our prescious MP’s are any less safer for it,….”

But the fact that it wasn’t anything to do with that doesn’t actually contradict that at the time it was also something that at the time could be deemed to be in the public interest. Hell, most of the time anything is ever done there is a hidden agenda with it….

Lee,

There is no way this information can be deemed to be in the public interest beyond mischief making over the issue of immigration. It’s in Green’s interest to publish this if he wants to push for tighter controls on immigration…incidentally, Andrew Lilico is now saying on Conservative Home that the ‘public interest’ defence should be dropped presumably because he sees it as problomatic too….

*now* there is no way it can be deemed to be, but I think there’s the potential for a good discussion over whether or not it was at the time, hence the fact we’re debating it now. It’s all by the by in reality, but I don’t like this idea that just because someone is using information to score partisan points it’s also absolutely irrelevant to the public at the same time…the two are not mutually exclusive; indeed it is likely that they won’t be mutually exclusive as for someone to cause mischief there has to be an appropriate level of public interest to give it the weight it needs to cause problems to the “opposition”.

Lee,

Come on. Its not about that; if you want to play it like that then I am going to say is I dont like Tory politicians who dont use ‘information’ but start witchunts around the issue of immigration to please their Daily Mail wing and score a few popularist points in the polls.

*who do use information

I look forward to you having to eat your words over this.

How shameless can party politics get?

“Come on. Its not about that;”

Whether it is about that or not is irrelevant…the intentions of use of information are not mutually exclusive from the relevance of the information

Lee,

I see hardly any of this information as being relevant to the public good; it is as has been pointed out relevant to people with the relevant political agenda (which you cannot seperate arbitarialy from it’s uses).

How can any information not be in the public good? It informs them on the credibility of their leaders, ensures an understanding of how things are working…now just because some information is going to be used *against* what we here would like to see doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant or useful for the public to hear.

Or should we only be ok with inane information being leaked “for the public good” if it’s for the good of OUR partisan arguments?

Let’s face it, the only reason you don’t think it’s in the public interest is because you think it runs contrary to a cohesive community, others think that not releasing it (and acting on it) runs contrary to a cohesive community.

*any information (within reason, national security etc obviously withstanding)

Lee,

As I have said many times I dont think an individual employment mistake in the HOC does come under that catergory. It means somebody screwed up which happens every hour in every day in every company. Or maybe we should start publishing the lists of all companies who have ever done that so the BNP can start a boycott campaign?? How people *intended* to vote is also not necessarily in the public interest either…I know for a fact Liberal Democrat Voice has an internal forum for members only…should that be thrown open in the interests of freedom of information??

Freedom of information does not equate to the right to know everything all the time….if it did then we should have supported the leak of the BNP member list on those grounds….and the public interest does not equate to needing to know that one HOC cleaner was mistakenly employed; that is tittle tattle with its own agenda

As I said Darrell, within reasons, as long as the information doesn’t contravene human rights then it SHOULD be in the public domain, cost prohibiting. If someone is willing to make information available that would usually cost a few hundred pounds to find though, then that is cool. For this reason, the BNP membership list being leaked is unforgiveable, so there’s no point bring that up in this debate as no-one has tried to say that such information should be in the public domain.

As for the HOC cleaner, this was leaked not long after the SIA debacle, and it goes right to the credibility of a government, if your thinking is so inclined, to know that they say one thing but allow another to happen. I take it the information about data losses aren’t of the public good either, Darrell, given how the Tories and Lib Dems only use that to attack the competency of Labour in security and of the ID database?

61. David Robertson

Well done to Unity for keeping a clear head and thinking about *why* the police might have taken this action. Senior officers will have been aware that it would have major political repercussions and it is clearly not in their self-interest to enrage the Tories whilst there is a real possibility of a Conservative government in the near future. Nor is it in their interest to do something that is guaranteed to bring near-universal criticism from the media. So why did they do it? To me the most likely answer is that they felt they *had* to do it despite the negative consequences for themselves.

Consider this possibility: When the police interview the mole he alleges that he was acting as an agent for Damian Green. The police then have a difficult decision to make. It is not at all clear where the line should be drawn between proper and improper action by MPs in attempting to obtain information — there’s little legal precedent and in any case it is a matter for Parliament not the courts. Since there is no public interest defence for the mole we have the unhappy situation where the police are obliged to conclude that he committed an offence, but the person who is alleged to have directed his actions *might* be immune. If the police fail to investigate the allegations against Damian Green then that would scupper any potential prosecution of the mole. On the other hand they don’t want to make the decision whether Damian Green’s alleged actions have crossed the line. So the police have to find a course of action that allows them to investigate the allegations against Damian Green whilst unloading the political decision on someone else. This is exactly what they did by asking the Speaker for permission to search Damien Green’s parliamentary office. Michael Martin had the power to put a stop to things right there. It was he who made the judgement that the allegations against Damien Green crossed the line, and it is he who is answerable to Parliament for that decision.

David Cameron’s response to this situation has been interesting. He has not offered unequivocal support to Damian Green — he has criticised police tactics and insinuated there was a government conspiracy, but has not asserted that Green acted entirely properly at all times, nor has he claimed that the police had no right to investigate the allegations. He’s smart enough not to bet the party on the integrity of Damian Green. Perhaps someone should leak the details of the allegations against Green to an MP “in the national interest” so we can make our own judgement as to whether the police action was justified.

>Because there’s the possibility that Green’s alleged source could be charged with an offence under the Official Secrets Act, responsbility for the investigation of this case falls to what used to be Special Branch, which has always held the responsibility for OSA cases since the very first such Act, which was passed in 1889.

I’m not sure what else they would charge the source under, unless that is Misconduct in Public Office, too.

One thing I haven’t seen noted (sorry if it has been) is that two of the tests for a successful prosecution under the OSA are (note quoting Wikipedia):

* the disclosure must cause harm to the UK or its interests, or it could reasonably be believed that harm could occur; and
* the person making the disclosure must know, or should know, that such harm could occur.

It looks debatable whether any of the leaks meets that first test (and therefore the second), in which case they’ll have a job getting a conviction under the OSA – especially given the history of recent cases.

Thoughts?

The argument about whether the information is in the public interest is muddying the issue imo. Personally I think it shouldn’t be a criminal offence to leak or publish any information unless revealing the information is directly and clearly AGAINST the public interest (that would have to be pretty serious – leaking the whereabouts of stockpiles of weapons to Al-Quaida or something). Leaking a whips’ list of rebels might still be a sackable offence, but it shouldn’t be a criminal one.

However, all that is irrelevant here. This is simply an issue of whether an MP broke the law. I hardly think Damian Green was deliberately taking direct action to expose flaws in the Official Secrets Act – if he did what some have accused him of then he probably just hoped he wouldn’t be caught.

The law should be the same for MPs as members of the public. You can’t say the police shouldn’t have arrested him because the law’s stupid. If we make it up to the police which laws they think are stupid and where lawbreakers shouldn’t be arrested then we’re giving them more power than any piece of legislation Labour has enacted. What if they decided a wifebeater shouldn’t be arrested because he was acting in the privacy of his home and the officer on duty thought it was a stupid law?

Of course, it may be that Green is entirely innocent of what he’s accused of – although if so then the Tory defence that he was “just doing his job” seems a little odd.


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  1. DonaldS

    @beng Background and sensible thoughts: http://tinyurl.com/5ry98l

  2. Conservative indignation over Green’s arrest may (or may not) be warranted

    […] I would hope that Green has not been stupid enough to accept information of that kind, but if he has and if, as the wording of one of the two charges implies, he may not only have a been passive recipient of leaked information but actually have taken an active part in soliciting and procuring information of that kind, then not only do the Tories protestations that he was only doing his job as MP ring extremely hollow but we have a major issue of political sleaze on out hand that Green, at the very least, will have problems wriggling out from under and which could easily engulf Conservative Central Office and the whole of its party machine if were to be shown that Green had passed information on to other ministers or to Tory HQ.” Read the full article. […]

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    […] An excellent piece over at Liberal Conspiracy by Unity about this case.   |   Trackback link   | […]

  4. DonaldS

    @beng Background and sensible thoughts: http://tinyurl.com/5ry98l

  5. Shadow Immigration Minister Damien Green arrested « Labourboy

    […] Liberal Conspiracy […]

  6. illandancient

    ‘Anti-Terror police’ are the same thing as Special Branch now, right? http://tinyurl.com/5ry98l

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