Monday, December 08, 2008

Should MPs be above the law?

It is not clear what the public will recall of the Damian Green affair. Will it be that the government tried to silence an opposition MP from giving sensitive but information in the public interest to the public? Or will it be that an Opposition MP had 'groomed' a civil servant to obtain information of a sensitive nature? Those are the two positions and the outcome will be based on trust. Does the public trust the government or the Opposition the most? Perhaps the answer to that is obvious, though of course trust in all politicians is low, but if trust can be linked to popularity then the government may well come off worse; especially as the media seem to be following the opposition line.

However there is a broader question. Should an MP be above the law? One key aspect of an Opposition MP's role is to scrutinise the work of government, this may include leaking embarrassing information to the media that is in the public interest, however it is unclear whether theft is condoned. Equally, it is unclear whether an Opposition MP should not be ensuring that the public should be informed of secrets governments may wish to conceal if they are in the public interest, and obtain them at any cost. Civil Servants have a duty to be impartial, therefore that aspect of the case is clear, but if the passing of information to an MP by a Civil Servant is illegal, is encouraging a Civil Servant to break the law also illegal? MPs live with a variety of privileges which do not apply to the rest of us, but should they? Could one aspect of this case that the stays in the public consciousness be that MPs think they are above the law and that they should not be?

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