Former Minister X v. Ryan Giggs and Sir Philip Green : Parliamentary hypocrisy or protecting a complainant?

Parliamentary Privilege: All right for some

Today I am reproducing a blog by Alistair Parker, a solicitor, with the firm, Brett Wilson LLP, a specialist media and professional litigation solicitors, on the issue surrounding the former Tory minister under police investigation for the alleged rape and sexual assault of one of his female staff.

My position has been that he should not be named – solely to protect the claimant who requested anonymity not to spare him embarrassment. But what this article highlights is the hypocrisy over the use of Parliamentary privilege by MPs – they use Parliamentary Privilege to name other prominent people, whether it is a famous footballer or a well known businessman, knowing they cannot be sued. But when it is one of their own the shutters come down and Parliament protects them as they are supposed to be honourable members.

The irony is that probably every MP and every lobby journalist knows his name but keeps quiet – perhaps only telling curious close friends. Thanks to Brett Wilson LLP for giving me permission to reproduce the blog. The link to their media blog is here.

Suspect anonymity: The hypocrisy of parliamentary privilege – Alistair Parker

1 August 2020 marked the parliamentary revelation that a sitting MP had been arrested by police on suspicion of rape, sexual assault and controlling and coercive behaviour. All offences were alleged to have taken between July 2019 and January 2020 against the MP’s former staffer. Police confirmed the suspect was a male Tory in his 50s, and a former minister. Subject to police guidance, the name of the man was not revealed. This is because he has not been charged and is still under investigation, with a police bail date now extended until early November 2020. 

A man suspected of a serious sexual offence therefore remains a serving MP. He has not had the Tory whip removed or been sanctioned at all, (apparently) for fear that this would identify him. Indeed, his anonymity has been carefully guarded by all sides of the House. Is this a proper observance of the right to pre-charge anonymity, or can we detect a whiff of hypocrisy?

Parliamentary privilege, which by Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689 guarantees that “the freedom of speech and debates of proceedings in parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament”, has long allowed members of Parliament, be they in the Commons or the Lords, to name criminal suspects in these situations.

Both peer and MPs have on occasion exploited this privilege, even identifying individuals who were protected by court injunctions:-

In 2011, then Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming named Ryan Giggs as the footballer who secured an anonymised injunction to prevent publication of allegations he had an affair with a former reality TV star.

Also in 2011, Mr Hemming revealed that the banker Sir (as he then was) Fred Goodwin had obtained a super-injunction protecting his identity in relation to an alleged extra-marital affair. The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stoneham poured oil on the fire adding “How can it be right for a super-injunction to hide the alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a senior colleague?” he asked. “If true it would be a serious breach of corporate governance and not even the Financial Services Authority would know about it.”

In October 2014, Labour MP Jimmy Hood used parliamentary privilege to make serious accusations against Sir Leon Brittan (both have since passed away). Mr Hood said “By the way, the current expose of Sir Leon Brittan, the then home secretary, with accusations of improper conduct with children will not come as a surprise to striking minors of 1984”. Sir Leon was posthumously cleared of any wrongdoing once it was finally established these allegations were among the prolific lies of Carl Beech. 

In November 2018, Labour peer Lord Hain used Parliamentary privilege to name Sir Philip Green as the ‘anonymous businessman’ who had used Non-Disclosure Agreements in settling numerous claims of bullying and sexual harassment with five complainants. This was despite the fact the High Court had maintained the injunction preventing publication of Sir Philip’s name and also that two of the five complainants supported this. We wrote about this matter at the time

The past decade therefore shows that UK politicians, in both houses, have been prepared to use Parliamentary privilege even when it:-

– Breaches civil court orders with impunity,
– Reveals personal details such as extra-marital affairs of high profile individuals, and
– Names a suspect in a serious criminal investigation, where the allegation turned out to be provably false.

Fast forward to the present day: The complainant of ‘Former Minister X’ has apparently been lobbying for his identification by urging MPs and peers to use parliamentary privilege to put his name into the public domain. If this is true, she is doing so despite the strong chance it will result in her own identification.

However, this led to an unprecedented response last week, when the Speaker of the House stepped in to urge MPs not to do so. Sir Lindsay Hoyle warned MPs that “while the investigation is ongoing, I believe that it would be wholly inappropriate for any further reference to be made to this matter in the House, including an attempt to name the member concerned.”

Sir Charles Walker MP: Former chair of the procedure committee which ruled MPs who are arrested should not be named Pic credit: Twitter

Indeed, back in February 2016, the cross-party Procedure Committee voted to end the tradition of the automatic naming of any MP who had been arrested. Its Chairman at the time, Tory MP Charles Walker said that MPs “should have the same rights to privacy as any other citizen, and in future their names should not be put in the public domain if they were arrested, unless this was directly connected to their role as an MP”. It seems Mr Walker had not considered the irony that the right to privacy of “any other citizen” can be trampled on via the use of parliamentary privilege. 

The conclusions we can draw are that, in the last decade, various parliamentarians have been happy to use parliamentary privilege to name and shame those being investigated for crimes and those embroiled in personal civil proceedings – even where they have court orders protecting their anonymity. However, when the ‘shoe is on the other foot’ and the accused party is himself a parliamentarian, it seems the House of Commons is a zealous believer in the right of pre-charge anonymity.

In simple terms, if you are being investigated of a crime, then any parliamentarian can publicly name you without any consequence to themselves. But if you name a parliamentarian who is in a similar predicament, get ready for formal legal consequences.

Although the identity of “Former Minister X” remains a mystery, surely the pattern of politicians protecting themselves could not be any clearer.

Child Sex Abuse: Will the police finally catch the perpetrators ?

The extraordinary revelations at the weekend by my Exaro colleague Mark Conrad and the Sunday People should finally dispel fears that the police have no intention of investigating the VIP paedophiles and now possible murderers in the Westminster paedophile scandal.

I could tell until this weekend  many in the mainstream media  were sceptical ( and some still are) that such horrendous acts involving MPs could ever have taken place in the 1970s and 1980s without the Westminster lobby knowing. Some, including one of my long-standing former colleagues on the Guardian, emphatically told me no MP could possibly be involved in the murder of a young boy.I’ll spare his blushes until there is an arrest.

However the disclosure at the weekend  that two former police detectives are now corroborating that they had heard about a murders and were aware of a paedophile ring in Westminster but couldn’t investigate.

As the Exaro article says :A source close to the investigation said that the two former police officers alleged: “There was a significant paedophile group in Parliament who were untouchable to the police.”

They provided new information on Sir Cyril Smith, the former Liberal MP, and Sir Jimmy Savile, the BBC star, who were exposed as paedophiles after their deaths. They have also provided potentially important information on former MPs and living perpetrators of child sex abuse.”

The key thing about the police coming forward is that the story by the brave survivor called ” Nick” has now a possible chance of being collaborated by other sources. This will be essential if they are to be prosecutions.

Also in the same week I learnt that in Durham where 900 people have come forward alleging sexual and physical abuse at the now closed Medomsley young offenders institution arrests are likely before Christmas and Operation Pallial in North Wales is also expected to lead to more arrests shortly. Even the home secretary, Theresa May, has indicated that she believes  it is only ” the tip of the iceberg” so far..

Altogether the chances of this far too long running historic scandal being dead and buried again are becoming much slimmer. The police now have to throw everything at it to get at the truth.

Parliament: Computer says No (again!)

Just when Parliament’s IT boss had promised that their new computer system was up and running again and ready to expand, guess what happens.

 It takes just 90 minutes for another crash with a hasty call  to IT experts to convene to sort out why so many MPs and peers offices still can’t access the internet.

 Full details of the story are on the Exaro News website and in Computer Weekly .They come from the latest leaks from inside Parliament – one general memo to all staff telling them everything is working well  and another to the IT team saying everything has started to go wrong.

At this rate it looks as though Parliament with its thousands of internal subscribers  is going to join other institutions in Whitehall and the NHS with a system plagued with problems.

 

Crash, bang wallop: Parliament’s computer system keeps cutting out

Tried to email your MP?  Waiting for a reply from their office? Before you blame our public servants for being lazy, it may just be that their tools of the trade are on the blink.

 As I report on the Exaro News website Parliament’s computer system is getting and all singing, dancing upgrade so MPs can get super access to the internet.

Only the subcontractors installing it  have made one big mistake – they have programmed the system to get LESS access to the internet. The result: furious MPs, bad tempered office staff as the system regularly crashes and can’t cope.

 How do we know this? Well the mother of all democracies has not made the usual public announcement.. Instead it has used its private email; system to tell its 7500 users that they have got it wrong and issued a private apology.

Details of the email from Joan Miller, director of the parliamentary IT service, are on the Exaro website.

She wrote:“The problems may have shown themselves in freezing or slowing down of your web browsing, video via the web, slower delivery of e-mails sent outside Parliament, use of [Microsoft] Office 365 and other internet-dependent systems.

“I know that this has been very frustrating and inconvenient for those affected.  I therefore wanted to write to you to apologise for the ongoing problems and for any difficulties caused, and to tell you about what we have been doing to fix the problem.”

She admits:“We therefore commissioned work to upgrade and expand our links out of the estate to the internet. Unfortunately, in January, one of our suppliers involved in this upgrade inadvertently introduced an error into the supporting software. This had the opposite effect of that intended, that is, it reduced the capacity of the access to the internet.”

Officially Parliament  says it is OK. A spokesman said: ” “The company that provides this fully managed service made an error, which it has rectified at its own cost. This caused some disruption to parliamentary services.”

“We are working with the supplier to ensure that the services remain resilient in the future.”

But today one of my sources says it is as bad as ever. More cover ups?

 

Since the publication on Exaro and on my blog the story has been taken up by Hugh Muir in the Guardian diary -with a typical wry commentary