The Times report about the possible investigation into a cover-up and "perversion of the course of justice" in the "loans for peerages" scandal, mentions possible "missing" emails and faxes.
The Times December 18, 2006
No 10 investigated for perversion of justice
Downing Street aides and Labour officials involved in the cash-for-honours inquiry are being investigated on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, The Times has learnt.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has advised detectives to look into suspected attempts to hamper the nine-month investigation. Some e-mails and documents have yet to be handed over to the police while others have apparently “disappeared”. Some individuals are suspected of colluding over evidence.
Our blog posting on 9th December Where are the missing RIPA Commissioners' annual reports for 2005 ? speculated
If, for example, T/Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, John Yates , who is investigating the "cash / loans for peerages" scandal, had requested some Communications Traffic Data for the phones and emails, of Members of Parliament, would that or would that not come under the "Wilson Doctrine", which was raised by the then Interception of Communications Commissioner Rt. Hon. Sir Swinton Thomas, just over a year ago ?
The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 Schedule 20 carries a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison, with other fines and possible forfeitures of the money which has been illegaly donated etc., and the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 carries a penalty of up to 3 months in prison.
Offences under these laws are not, therefore Serious Crime, according to the proportionality criterion in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 section 81 General Interpretation subsection 3
(a) that the offence or one of the offences that is or would be constituted by the conduct is an offence for which a person who has attained the age of twenty-one and has no previous convictions could reasonably be expected to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or more;
However the Common Law offence of Perverting the Course of Justice, is according to the Crown Prosecution Service:
The offence of perverting the course of justice is committed when an accused:-
- does an act or series of acts;
- which has or have a tendency to pervert; and
- which is or are intended to pervert;
- the course of public justice.
The offence is contrary to common law and triable only on indictment. It carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and/or a fine.
Therefore this does meet the RIPA definition of "Serious Crime", and so the Police could ask for Communications Traffic Data to try to track down any "missing" emails or faxes which appear to be missing or hidden, or to establish collusion between the alleged conspirators in the Labour Party.
However, given that some of those involved in the scandal are elected Members of Parliament, then our still unanswered questions about the "Wilson Doctrine" are relevant.
If the "Wilson Doctrine" has been updated since 1966, when the the Prime Minister Harold Wilson promised that no Member of Parliament's phone calls would be intercepted, then does that administrative immunity apply to things which either had not yet been invented, or were not yet in widespread use by Members of Parliament i.e. facsimile machines, voice calls on mobile phones, Short Message Service text messages on mobile phones, and electronic mail via the internet ?
Does the "Wilson Doctrine" also apply to Members of the House of Lords (very relevant in the Peerages bit of the scandal), or to other democratically elected assemblies, which did not exist in the UK back in 1966 i.e. the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the London Assembly and the European Parliament. Does the "Wilson Doctrine" apply to members of the Royal Family ?
Remember that there is a difference between interceptingm or tracking the Communications Traffic Data of the phone calls or emails of an MP, for genuine reasons of national security or serious crime, and doing so for political purpose, under the guise of national security etc.
Intercepting an MP's communications inevitably has a chilling effect on any of the constituents who might want to raise issues or complaints about the Government or its agencies with their democratically elected representative.
Even the excuse of "national security" can, and has been in the past, in other supposedly democratic countries, been used to attempt to track down genuine "whistleblowers" who are trying to expose criminal activities or corruption within the Governemnt and within the secret intelligence agencies, and who may very well try to bring their revelations to the attention of Members of Parliament.
We had hoped that the Annual Report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner and that of the Intelligence Services Commissioner would have shed some light on these "Wilson Doctrine" matters, since the issue was raised in December 2005 by the previous Interception of Communications Commissioner, Rt. Hon. Sir Swinton Thomas.
These reports (for the year 2005) are, according to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 section , supposed to be presented to the Prime Minister, "as soon as practicable after the end of each calendar year".
The Act also clearly states "the Prime Minister shall lay before each House of Parliament a copy of every annual report" made by these two Commissioners.
Parliament breaks up for the Christmas recess later on today Tuesday 19th December, probably before lunchtime.
This does not leave much time for even a Written Statement from the Prime Minister, saying, as he has done every year, that he has placed a copy of these two Reports in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament, and then for copies to eventually find their way on to the Official Documents website.
Remember that, in the past, these censored reports have been submitted, very tardily in our opinion, to the Prime Minister in June or July, and have been laid before Parliament and published, again with far too long a delay, in October or November.
The Annual censored report of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, also under RIPA, was submitted and published online back in July.
We have tried to be fair the Government and the secret intelligence agencies over the Operation Paget report into the death of Princess Diana, and over the media speculation about the announcement of the retirement of Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller as Director General of the Security Service MI5.
However, if the Annual Reports of the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Intelligence Services Commissioner for the calendar year of 2005 are not published before the end of 2006, then we feel that there must be some sort of conspiracy and / or incompetence involved.
Remember that anything which might predjudice national security etc. is already excluded from being made public in these reports, e.g. investigations or audits of procedures by the two Commissioners into any phone intercepts regarding the July 2005 London suicide bomb terrorists and failed bomb attackers, so what is the reason for the delay ?
The new RIPA Commissioners and the Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister should be working on publishing the 2006 annual report, not the previous 2005 ones.
Why can't the Annual Reports be submitted by the Commissioners. discussed by the Government and published, no more than 3 months, after the calendar year to which the Reports pertain ?
Could it be the "Wilson Doctrine" and the" loans for peerages" scandal which is causing these reports to be supressed illegally ?
We should not have to make a formal Freedom of Information Act request for Reports which should already have been published, but, that is what we will probably do this Tuesday afternoon.