MP arrested

The BBC reports “cross-party fury” today at the arrest of Conservative MP and Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green; apparently Mr Green’s arrest followed on from that of a Home Office civil servant alleged to have leaked documents to the MP, who then passed them to the press.

Formally speaking, Mr Green was arrested “on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office”

According to this BBC News article, these are among the leaks thought to have been at the heart of the incident.

  • The November 2007 revelation that the home secretary knew the Security Industry Authority had granted licences to 5,000 illegal workers, but decided not to publicise it.
  • The February 2008 news that an illegal immigrant had been employed as a cleaner in the House of Commons.
  • A whips’ list of potential Labour rebels in the vote on plans to increase the pre-charge terror detention limit to 42 days.
  • A letter from the home secretary warning that a recession could lead to a rise in crime.

As you can read in this piece in the Guardian, there’s no shortage of comment from other parliamentarians about the many constitutional and procedural questions raised by Mr Green’s treatment at the hands of the police.

Among them, some of the most serious must surely concern the linked issues of proportionality and the confidentiality of exchanges between an MP and his constituents.

The police are said to have seized Mr Green’s mobile phone and computer, and searched his parliamentary offices and both his homes. This will have put into their hands a vast amount of information, much of which must surely be confidential, and most of which can have little or no relevance to any police enquiry into the leaks.

After all, by definition, the leaked information is in the public domain, and presumably Mr Green is known to have been the person who leaked it.

That charge of “conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office” seems a strange one, too. After all, if it’s enough to get Mr Green snatched off the streets by counter-terrorism officers for disclosing information the government doesn’t dispute – but finds embarrassing – why hasn’t it been invoked in previous cases of “misconduct in a public office”?

Mr Mandelson’s dodgy mortgage, and Mr Prescott’s misuse of government furniture would seem to have been prime examples.