Monday, December 08, 2008

Yasmin missing the point

Right, hopefully this will be my absolute last post on the Green affair.  I’m as bored of it as I assume you are.  But there is a line of argument that has been used frequently by bloggers and commentators alike over this affair – mostly from the left perspective.  That is the twin argument that ‘MPs are not above the law’ and that Christopher Galley was a politically motivated Tory rather than a fearless seeker after truth.  As such, it was right and proper for the police to investigate.

It’s a line that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown pursues in today’s Indy:

No British citizen is above the law. Not should they be. Article 9 of the 1689 Bill of Rights states: "The freedom of speech and debates or proceedings ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside Parliament." That, according to the impeccable constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor, does not mean anything goes within the walls of the palaces of Westminster.

The protection extends to procedures and correspondence between MPs and their constituents. What if a rogue parliamentarian secretes a cache of stolen money in his office? Or assaults his researcher? Or is passing information to al-Qa'ida?

This is true, but irrelevant.  The problem with the Green arrest was that there was no law under which there were any grounds to arrest him.  The one the police ended up using, ‘Misconduct in public office’, with Green tacked on as an abetter, was specifically ruled not to be applicable in a court decision made only days before the arrest.  So what is being argued is that the police should not arrest people who have committed an act that is specifically not a criminal offence.  I don’t think that should be all that controversial really.

As for the other point:

Christopher Galley, the civil servant in the Home Office who regularly supplied Damian Green with information, presents himself as a conscientious and politically-neutral whistleblower. Is he? Or is he a closet Tory mole who is only interested in his party winning the next election? We don't know yet. But the greatest strength of our civil service is its impartiality.

And this is also entirely irrelevant to the issue at hand.  If Galley was leaking documents, that is a ground for dismissal.  There are certain protections he could try and call here – the public interest defence for example – but realistically he’s toast.  If you breach your employer’s confidentiality rules you can usually expect to be fired.  Fired that is, not to get hauled off by the rozzers and have your home and office searched by police, and your phone and computer taken.

You can argue, with a good deal of justice, that leaking is bad m’kay.  But things that are bad are not always the same as things that are illegal.  It’s a simple point, but one that seems to be beyond some people.

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