back to article The Wilson Doctrine isn't legally binding, MPs CAN be spied on, says QC

The Wilson Doctrine, long believed to forbid Blighty's spooks from tapping the phones of British politicians, has been repudiated by a senior lawyer. Speaking to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which is hearing the complaint of a trio of politicians against GCHQ's mass-surveillance activities, James Eadie QC claimed …

  1. Uberseehandel

    QCs don't make the law, or decide what is legal

    Fancy lawyers often forget that they don't make the law. Judges (through their delivered opinions in Common Law cases), and parliamentarians (by passing bills through parliament) make the law. (As I didn't study any law in England, there might be some practical differences, but that was the theory in a legal system based on English law).

    A Prime Minister can instruct the Civil Service and the security organs NOT to rifle through parliamentarian's emails, texts etc. I imagine an incoming Prime Minister will reissue Wilson's instruction to the organs, just as he, or she, rewrites the letter to the Trident armed submarines.

    I can see this being the basis for an entire episode of Yes, Prime Minister, or even House of Cards.

    Incidentally, in my experience, in a friendly nation far away, the intelligence service and the comms boyos are allowed to spy on parliamentarians , but they can only tell the PM. It all went into a particular filing cabinet, which the PM would dip into when needing cheering up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: QCs don't make the law, or decide what is legal

      "just as he, or she, rewrites the letter to the Trident armed submarines."

      How many ways can there be to write "You are now part of the US Navy officially as well as de facto?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: QCs don't make the law, or decide what is legal

        I suspect the current one adds a ps. "can you also lob a spare missile at Nick Clegg if the big one goes up"

        1. getHandle

          Re: QCs don't make the law, or decide what is legal

          Nick Clegg? Why waste such an enormous amount of money on a target of such little value?

      2. Uberseehandel

        Re: QCs don't make the law, or decide what is legal

        How many ways can there be to write "You are now part of the US Navy officially as well as de facto?

        Actually, you could not be more wrong - do you even know the contents of the letter or are you dancing to somebody else's agenda?

        For those who are unaware of the purpose of the letter, it is to be opened in the event that the UK has been wiped out in a nuclear attack. The captain (and another officer) is instructed whether to launch on the aggressor, not to launch on the aggressor, or to make his, or her, own mind up. The general consensus is that the letter leaves it up to the captain. Captains, after they have retired, have pretty uniformally indicated that they would not fire their missiles. Presumably they would opt to join the Australian or New Zealand navies on the other side of the world, as they have the range.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: QCs don't make the law, or decide what is legal

          "The general consensus is that the letter leaves it up to the captain. Captains, after they have retired, have pretty uniformally indicated that they would not fire their missiles. Presumably they would opt to join the Australian or New Zealand navies on the other side of the world, as they have the range."

          Neville Shute probably had it pretty much right all along. :)

    2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: QCs don't make the law, or decide what is legal

      "QCs don't make the law, or decide what is legal"

      True enough, but they are expected to give legal opinions. Also, being a QC, James Eadie may well become a judge and he will then make English and Welsh common law.

  2. Salts

    Guess There Will Be...

    A new law being rushed through, wonder how they will spin it.

    1. Roo
      Windows

      Re: Guess There Will Be...

      Nah, they'll scribble it on a sputum-stained copy of Hansard in fat black crayon then bury it under a pile of broken toys, spat dummies and manifestos.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. batfink Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    It's not a problem anyway

    What's the problem? If the on-shore spooks are banned from snooping on our Glorious Leaders, they can just ask their Five-Eyes mates to do it for them and quietly pass them the info.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's not a problem anyway

      "they can just ask their Five-Eyes mates to do it for them and quietly pass them the info"

      There will be a brief interlude while everybody patches against a certain Italian company and before new holes are discovered.

  5. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    If politicians have nothing to hide...

    ... they've nothing to fear. Obviously.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: If politicians have nothing to hide...

      Even when they are 'thinking of the children'?????

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If politicians have nothing to hide...

      If politicians have nothing to hide...

      What sort of fucked-up world do you live in? Every MP has something to hide.

      1. Graham Marsden
        Facepalm

        @Pete65 - Re: If politicians have nothing to hide...

        I think you need a new Irony Detector. Yours appears to be malfunctioning.

  6. Gordon 10 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Hmmm

    Really conflicted on this one. On the one hand those entitled trough sniffers are quite happily championing one rule for the politico's and one rule for the proles, otoh anything that gives GCHQ and Co a bloody nose over mass data collection is good by me.

    Also that QC seems to have forgotten the main reason for the Wilson doctrine being put in place - its possibly the closest (if you believe the rumours) we have ever come to an overthrow of a serving Prime Minister by the bureaucracy.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4789060.stm

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reneging on a "gentlemen's agreement"

    My sympathy levels are close to zero. But I thought one of the advantages of our Humphrey-based Civil Service was supposed to be its ability to take the long view? In which case blatantly shafting politicians over such a clear and public agreement doesn't seem to be that bright an idea.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Reneging on a "gentlemen's agreement"

      "But I thought one of the advantages of our Humphrey-based Civil Service was supposed to be its ability to take the long view?"

      That long view is "what benefits the civil service the most, particularly those at the top when they retire?"

  8. Camilla Smythe

    Simples

    Advertising is based on the long tail whereby you track everyone to buggery and beyond, make big claims about your capabilities and pocket cash from mugs whilst passing the cost off to the general populace for a 'better tin of beans'.

    Intelligence is based on Intelligence whereby you identify and target your targets appropriately.

    I may be wrong here but it should not be that fucking hard.

    When did the Intelligence Services decide that they were dumb fuck enough to qualify for membership of The IAB?

  9. arkhangelsk

    >James Eadie QC claimed that the doctrine does not have force in law and cannot impose legal restraints on the agencies.

    Eadle, I could have said that and I don't have lawyer training. It is not a law, BUT that agencies are not bound by it is a big question mark, because the Doctrine arguably constitutes a Cabinet or Prime Ministerial Order. Don't the Brit civil services have any laws saying they must be bound by their superior's orders?

    >As reported by the Guardian, Eadie told the IPT that excluding politicians from GCHQ's mass surveillance wasn't even feasible.

    Let me propose a "revolutionary" idea, Eadle. If, despite your position, we accept that the doctrine has a legal effect, and that you can't exclude politicians from a mass surveillance plan ... the only solution is to NOT DO MASS SURVEILLANCE!

    Is that really hard?

    Still, I must wonder when all the legislatures in the West will finally get fed up of this crap and just pass a act (an undeniable law with undeniable legal efect) banning intelligence agencies from doing anything while they review everything from zero, with all future activities under positive control only. We tried to believe them, listened to their arguments that positive control eliminates their needed flexibility, and look how they exploit it. Sometime, we have to put our foot down, even if it does mean one or two buses are exploded.

  10. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    Above the law

    If recent worldwide revelations (and in the UK non-revelations?) are anything to go by senior power brokers in the UK are above the law anyway?

    Not by legislation, not by rule but merely by day-to-day practice of mis-filing, non-enacting, misplacing or turning a Nelsonian blind eye to whatever spins your boat?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A warning from history.

    Anyone who thinks that the security services shouldn't be restrained from spying on our democratic elected representatives needs to explain why having another J. Edgar Hoover would be a good thing.

  12. Vic

    Good.

    For far too long, the pols have been telling us that mass surveillance is good for us, but not for them,

    If this QC is right, then they're going to get the same shitty stick they use on us. Aside form that being very well-deserved, it just might mean that they make an effort to clean it off a bit...

    Or maybe they'll just fast-track through some more emergency legislation to get themselves out of the firing line once again.

    Vic.

  13. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Pretty Obvious, Really, and Virtually Impossible to Avoid and Deny and Claim is not Necessary

    A public clarification from the PM/Cabinet Office that such an immunity is inequitable and unlawful and bound to be abused for an evasion of common justice*, is needed to ensure that the public do not think that politicians think themselves above the law and greater than anyone else, and politicians do not get above themselves and think such to be so.

    Certainly, in this modern day and internetworking age of cyber communications, are all smarter spooks comprehensively surveilling them to ensure they do what intelligence services required of the future rather than they, the elected political party hacks, arbitrarily and unilaterally servering what the past would wish of the present.

    Such then leaves the question hanging, are serving intelligence services smarter spooky operations centres, or are they failing to provide intelligent novel dynamic lead?

    * Methinks there will be no one with the right stuff and enough guts and a great pair of working balls to deliver that nugget to the people, and in not doing so, extraordinarily render to peoples everywhere the news that they be up to all sorts of unpleasant and unsupportable shenanigans. And would be wishing to continue to be doing more of the same.

    What a load of plonkers be they then, and those in spooky positions that would not end such abuse.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sadiq Khan

    Sadiq Khan MP was spied on while talking to a constituent, which was a violation of the Wilson Doctrine, in 2008.

    So it's only taken them another seven years to admit that they can, will, and are doing it to all of them. Good show.

  15. P. Lee Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Welcome to the National Security State

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/National_Security_State

    Now that God has been removed from society as an entity to which politicians and the State are answerable, the State has placed itself and its laws in the position of being the entity requiring the highest possible allegiance.

    Ever since Christianity merged with the State, it corrupted both itself and the claim of the State to hold ultimate moral authority. In the pre-Christian pagan world, the State's power was (portrayed as) a reflection the ruling god's power and therefore validation in itself of its right to rule. Christianity interfered with that and held that the State's right to rule was contingent on its adherence to (its interpretation of) Godly principles. The State has always sought to re-assert itself as the ultimate authority. With only the ghost of Christianity left in Society, we are left with the State's "the will to power" and pretty much zero philosophical basis for any moral controls on State activity. The State has no respect for the populace, why would it respect the their representatives?

    Welcome back to pagan government.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Welcome to the National Security State

      So theocracy is a better bet than anything else?? Sorry, but that's bollocks.

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