Judge not lest ye be overheard

Well, it seems very much that the ‘hot’ story for the start of this week is the suggestion that a private conversation between a Labour MP and a constituent, Babar Ahmad, who happens to be inside awaiting (possible) extradition to the US on terrorism charges relating to his having been involved in the running a website which supported, and solicited funds for the Taliban and for (unspecified) Chechen groups, may have been covertly recorded by the security services.

I do agree with Nick Robinson, to some extent, that the timing of the story is a trifle unfortunate for those MPs who are currently huffing and puffing over this alleged breach of the Wilson doctrine:

Amidst the outrage in Westminster at the alleged phone tapping of an MP, no-one has really explained why MPs should be treated differently to, say, lawyers or doctors who have relationships based on confidentiality.

Coming on the back of the weekend’s flurry of MP’s expenses stories a la Conway there may be some merit in Nick’s observation that:

Westminster should be on standby for voters incensed by the Conway affair to demand to know why MPs should be protected when they are not.

But such an observation misses the broader point as do those, like Iain Dale, whose interest in the story runs largely to questions of who authorised what – it is, I think, naive and not just a little bit stupid for anyone to assume that the security services have been required to obtain individual warrants for each and every occasion they want to listen in on Mr Ahmad, it being much more likely that his situation has been deemed to be justification for a general warrant covering just about all circumstances.

In short, if his conversation with Sadiq Khan MP was recorded, it was recorded only because the security operative in question either failed to recognise (or disregarded) the fact that this meeting constituted an exception to what was otherwise a general ‘rule’ he or she was operating under. The real question here is, therefore, not simply whether the Wilson doctrine has been breached but whether, and in what circumstances, other privileged conversations (like those between Ahmad and his legal counsel) may also have been routinely recorded.

This is a bigger issue than simply that of one MP and a convention that applies to a little over 1,500 people (Westminster MPs and Peers), in fact the real problem is nicely illustrated by this (expanded) list of possibilities for Iain:

1. It was authorised by the Head of Mi5 with no reference to a politician

2. It was authorised by the Home Secretary (Khan is her whip!)

3. It was authorised by the Justice Secretary (unlikely)

4. It was authorised by the Prime Minister

And from Chris Paul:

5. It was not authorised by the head of MI5 OR by a politician
6. The bugging was not carried out by a UK agency
7. It did not happen

There is an important word missing from the list, one that neatly sums up the entire problem with the current system under which ‘bugging’ is undertaken…

… and the word is ‘Judge’.

What is fundamentally unacceptable here is that there is not a single shred of judicial oversight in the whole system, and before anyone gets too overwrought at the possibility that Wilson doctrine has been breached, lets here the politicians, of all parties explain why that should be the case. After that, then we can get down to the question of whether MPs (or anyone else) should be afforded a privileged status within the system.

(Cross-posted at Liberal Conspiracy)

3 thoughts on “Judge not lest ye be overheard

  1. Hi
    Can I offer a defence of the doctrine – I know its not seemingly as big an issue as that of the liberty of individuals accused of terrorist activity – but the doctrine has good grounds.


    Who can authorise the tapping of a politicians? – what if the politician is an opponent? – how can tapped information be used by opponents? – and so on.

    Tapping politicians is just too dangerous for democracy to survive it unscathed.

  2. I thought you were a Labour supporter . Well naturally if you create endless people and budgets they are going to misuse them and part of that has been extending state powers in every way possible.I await your cunning solution …something like “Off”-surveillance state , equally well funded by he working populatioin now consisting of three Polish Blokes …or perhaps more forms to fill in so some nominal judicial oversight is granted .

    Are you starting to get it yet ?

  3. PS….you are getting awfully dull you know .Can I suggest , shorter , less pompous and do something other than provide sulky commentary to the right of centre Blogasphere. I fear you have come under the influence of the bar fly fraternity . Pointless , you might as well talk to yourself and you have been much better in the past.

    Just my opinion of course

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