back to article It's cool for Brit snoops to break the law, says secretive spy court. Just hold on while we pull off some legal jujitsu to let MI5 off the hook...

It’s perfectly legal for British spies to break the law, Britain’s secretive spy court has ruled – making a mockery of other laws intended to keep eavesdropping agencies and others under effective control. Sweeping away campaign group Privacy International’s legal objections, judges Lord Justice Singh, Lord Boyd and Sir …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How do I sign up? I'm not yet a criminal, but I'd like an official never-go-to-jail card.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Devil

      It doesn't seem to be an official get-out-of-jail-free-card. It seems to be dependent on your superiors' goodwill.

      So, if you ever do end up in Her Majesty's clandestine employ, I would suggest extensively practicing complimenting your bosses ties, consistently laughing at their jokes, and finding out which of them is into golf, tennis, squash or cards, and then repeatedly losing in a convincing manner, after a hard-fought competition.

      If you ever publish your own spy memoirs after your now assuredly successful career, please remember to mention me in the book's dedication as one of the people who made it all possible.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        @ Marketing Hack

        I would also recommend using your newly acquired clandestine spying abilities to find out as much dodgy info about your bosses and the establishment and to find a very secure place to keep it. Also keep it in such a way that it all becomes public if anything untoward happens to you.

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          An Almighty Sublime Precaution for Immunity and Impunity of ACTiOns

          I would also recommend using your newly acquired clandestine spying abilities to find out as much dodgy info about your bosses and the establishment and to find a very secure place to keep it. Also keep it in such a way that it all becomes public if anything untoward happens to you. ..... Chris G

          Quite so, Chris G. Such is a Mighty Fine Move and Wise Trump Card to have to play as a Reserve Force of Future Source.

          Advanced Cyber Telecommunications are not ever to be trifled with ..... for many consequences are proving themselves to be extremely fatal to worthy perpetrators ...... Ye Olde Rotten Eggs.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

        ... and maybe ...

        An orange studded with cloves and soaked in ether for a chrimbo prezzy.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: ... and maybe ...

          And maybe a suitcase?

          Careful you don't get stuck in it and miss your flight.

    3. Rich 11 Silver badge

      I'm not yet a criminal, but I'd like an official never-go-to-jail card.

      I have absolutely no plans to murder anyone but I'd like my licence to kill. I just think it'd make for a fucking cool bus pass.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        If you only need it as a bus pass, I suspect the people who would be impressed by your licence will be just as impressed if you draw one with crayon.

        And the ones who think it's fake will believe so even if it is genuine. Unless you plan to demonstrate it...

  2. seven of five Silver badge

    lovely

    Just fucking lovely.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    007 ... license to kill

    I wonder what dirt they have on the judges?

    1. cookieMonster

      Re: 007 ... license to kill

      All of it...

    2. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: 007 ... license to kill

      Dirt not required just a sense of 'public duty' meaning 'support the Establishment at all times and especially when absolutely necessary'. See the appalling legal abuse Assange has suffered and is suffering. Due legal process has been and is being suspended for him.

      After ruling that he was subject to a European Arrest Warrant despite not being charged Parliament changed the law ensuring you and I could never be estradited under it for mere questioning.

      Even apart from Brexit the reputation of Britain abroad is full of holes and looking very seedy indeed and we only have ourselves to blame. Well if you are in England. Scotland has done as is doing rather better. We have and are protecting Prof Carla Ponsatti from being extradited by the Spanish for being Catalan. Scottish judges saw throught he last one as politically motivated. The Spanish are trying again but it won't work. Spain cannae have her. She is safe in St Andrews.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: 007 ... license to kill

        After ruling that he was subject to a European Arrest Warrant despite not being charged

        You can't be charged before you've been arrested in the UK either. Even if you go to a police station voluntarily for questioning - they have to formally arrest you before charging you.

        The question that Assange took to the High Court was whether the Swedish system was compatible with UK law. Because in most of Europe it's the magistrates that run the trials (the inquisatorial system as opposed to our adversarial system) - and so the magistrate who signs the IAW is also linked to the prosecution. Whereas our police and prosecutors are separate from the judiciary and have to get their warrants from them.

        The court ruled that allowing this process must have been the intention of the legislation given that almost every country in the EU runs their justice system this way. Otherwise the whole European Arrest Warrant treaty would have been virtually pointless.

      2. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: 007 ... license to kill

        No one rolls over for Spain but I am sure Scotland would roll over for American.

    3. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Re: 007 ... license to kill

      @AC wrt 'license to kill'

      A while back M15 had a recruitment campaign where they discouraged the notion of them being such an agency, and stressed the adherence to the process of law. I didn't take the application any further because the money was quite terrible, I was earning more as an IT bod (maybe it's only support staff that aren't allowed to kill folk though?) in the Midlands than they were offering for a job in the City.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: an AI license to thrill ...... tomorrow's opposition

        A while back M15 had a recruitment campaign where they discouraged the notion of them being such an agency, and stressed the adherence to the process of law. I didn't take the application any further because the money was quite terrible, ........ GruntyMcPugh

        Whenever they [MI5 head honchos (the operational chiefs rather than mission injuns)] know that you know that they know such an adherence to the process of law is just a present vital fabrication and convenient current necessity to try to discourage any overwhelmingly superior renegade rogue/private pirate activity, is one worth whatever one wants to/from them.

        And that creates an ever increasing greater problem for them whenever they fail to engage with such novel agents which they can neither escape nor deny ....... their virtual migration and deployment/program employment in smarter competitive opposition.

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Taking More Steps ....... and Not Trying to Leave Anyone with Nothing Behind

          A Hanging Question for Future AI Leadership ..... with Virtual Machines to Command and Control/Seed and Tend Grow.

          Rather than Reign by Nations, Rule via SMARTR AI Networks ........ Delivers Immediately an Immaculate Supply Chain of Heavenly Delights with the Devilish Temptation of an Earnest Addiction to AI Provision of Perfection ‽ . What's not to like?

          Such supports MI5/MI6/AWEsome MOD Special Forces and Secret IntelAIgent Sources in the Quantum Leaps Needed for An Absolutely AWEsome Control of Everything Virtually with Digital Command to Binary Assets/Pedestrian Units. And readily available as a fully armed and armoured weapon against Corrupt and Perverted SCADA Operating Systems, something of a Fantastically Rich and Unique Invisible Export Earner for Owners, methinks.

          For all those who like things spelt out simply, that's surely plain enough to be easily understood and supported and ravenously encouraged. :-)

          :-) Surely you don't expect 2020 to be Run without Future Changes? That would be to identify a petrification in the path of progress to be overwhelmed with helpful information and greater intelligence servering.

  4. PhilipN Silver badge

    Jujitsu?

    I think you mean acrobatics?

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      Re: Jujitsu?

      Maybe, but they do seem to have justice in a death hold....

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    arguments to stop prosecution of a law-breaking British spy would be based on the “public interest”

    But they always are.

    You just have to know which "public" they're talking about.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: arguments to stop prosecution of a law-breaking Brit spy would be based on the “public interest”

      The old public-schoolboy network interest (or aren't spooks from Oxbridge these days?)?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: arguments to stop prosecution of a law-breaking Brit spy would be based on the “public interest”

        I think they recruit elsewhere as well - probably not enough “d**kies” allowed into the hallowed halls (OK I might qualify on both appearance and attendance, but you get the picture)

        To be fair (not that I want to be) it might have occurred to them that there are other universities who attract decent candidates and educate them properly (anyone remember the Yes Minister episode in which the hypothesis that there are only two universities in the U.K. and the minister is mocked for only have been at the LSE?)

    2. Danny Boyd

      Re: ... “public interest”

      They're thinking of children?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    William Burroughs (again)

    Quote: "The paranoid is a person who knows a little of what is going on."

    *

    ......and CLEARLY --- quite a lot is going on!!!!

  7. Archtech Silver badge

    Arbitrary law is reappearing

    Welcome to the new era of "Tudor Law". All laws, regulations, guidelines and policies are binding on the proletariat.

    However, what the laws, regulations, guidelines and policies actually mean will be decided at an appropriate time by the powers that be, in a way that suits their convenience.

    Just as the "Supreme Court" overruled the High Court and declared itself legally superior to Parliament.

    The funny thing about really well managed coups d'etat is that most people don't even notice them happening.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

      It was Parliament that created the Supreme Court to replace the judicial functions of the House of Lords and gave it the power, among other things, to hold politicians to account when they violated the accepted constitutional settlement.

      But on the case in point, it's a legal nightmare. Suppose you are an MI5 agent and are told to infiltrate, say, a drugs gang. You aren't going to get very far if you keep on refusing to have anything to do with illegal drugs. Which is, I suppose, OK up to a point, but what do you do if having earned the trust of the top criminals you then get ordered to kill someone? Refusing might blow your cover and maybe wreck years of work that could have eventually brought the whole gang down and saved thousands of lives. In the end, it's a trolley problem.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

        >Which is, I suppose, OK up to a point, but what do you do if having earned the trust of the top criminals you then get ordered to kill someone?

        You are letting your imagination get carried away, in the real world your MI5 boss is more likely to recommend you shake up with the criminal boss'es daughter and raise a family...

        1. Cederic Silver badge

          Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

          Ok, ignore drugs gangs and look at the multiple violent crimes committed by informants in Northern Ireland.

          This isn't hypothetical. This has actually happened. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/08/how-many-murders-can-a-police-informer-get-away-with is not a unique case.

          1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

            Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

            Ok, ignore drugs gangs and look at the multiple violent crimes committed by informants in Northern Ireland. .... Cederic

            Quite so, Cederic. Leading paramilitarism learnt all the major effective dirty little big horn secrets during the Decades of Troubles.

            And it is nothing something one can forget or would wish to relinquish command and control of ...... given the sick nature of the brainwashed foe and fickle friend still being presented before one with the avid assistance of a compliant and complicit media programming operations.

            Oh, .... and with particular regard to ....

            It doesn't seem to be an official get-out-of-jail-free-card. It seems to be dependent on your superiors' goodwill. ...... Marketing Hack

            ..... to rely on that wishful thinking rather than one's own overwhelming superior meritorious argument is to have one always liable to be a target for incarceration and/or liquidation when secrets are spilled and in renegade rogue hands/hearts and minds.

            You might like to realise that is why Assange and Epstein are/were held essentially incommunicado and why Pat Finucane was silenced and Epstein suicided.

            And those sort of shenanigans are practised and honed in experiments being tested everywhere ...... but it is effectively only a failing rearguard, after the wild horses have bolted project nowadays identifying in established shadows the truly worthy enemies of a Free State.

            1. Julz Silver badge

              Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

              And never forget the the fate of Dr David Kelly whose death was such a relief to so many.

      2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

        "

        Suppose you are an MI5 agent and are told to infiltrate, say, a drugs gang. You aren't going to get very far if you keep on refusing to have anything to do with illegal drugs.

        "

        All well and good, but what's the limit? Heres your point slightly changed ...

        Suppose you are an MI5 agent and are told to infiltrate, say, a terrorist gang. You aren't going to get very far if you keep on refusing to have anything to do with bombing crowded shopping centres.

        1. MrXavia

          Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

          I think you can justify an operative taking part in some crimes, but yes there is a limit, obviously once you get to the point of a bombing/killing or other serious crime that is when you need the crime to be foiled at the right time

          1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

            "

            but yes there is a limit

            "

            So where would you put that limit? Victimless crimes only? GBH? Up to £x of property theft/damage? A single murder?

            I think you'll find lots or argument about where the line should be drawn.

    2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

      Just as the "Supreme Court" overruled the High Court and declared itself legally superior to Parliament.

      No it did not, in the sense you are suggesting, though it is in fact the superior court by definition.

      It ruled that the Supreme Court, High Court, Parliament and Prime Minister were constrained by British Constitution and Law.

      It was a ruling that the Prime Minister was not above either.

      1. sprograms

        Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

        The central difficulty is that the Supreme Court, as with the US Supreme Court, gets to say what the Constitution requires, and it requires just what they say it does, unsurprisingly. But what's a poor Supreme Court justice to do when she (or he, or whatever) simply "knows" what it should say, even if it didn't, in its unwritten (or even written, in the US) glory. Personally, I'm in favor of statutes every time, unless very ambiguous, unless a statute or Act clearly violates my personal and contemporary sense of ethics. Laugh.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

          Good news!

          The UK Supreme Court does not do any such thing. It rules on whether actions are legally permitted by existing UK law - primary, secondary and precedent.

          Remember that Parliament makes laws, not Government. And so when Government breaks the law, they must be held to account. And when Parliament makes laws, they must be compatible with existing law.

          If a new law is incompatible with an existing one, Parliament must explicitly remove the old one. The Lords are supposed to try to spot these before the Act is enacted, however that can't deal with secondary legislation or government overreach.

          That seems to be what you claim to want - except of course "violates your ethics" is the most subjective view possible, so presumably you do think the PM should be allowed to do whatever he or she desires, regardless of what laws Parliament has created.

          If your existence violates my sense of ethics, should I be permitted to terminate it? Of course not.

      2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

        It was a ruling that the Prime Minister was not above either

        But for how long? Just waiting for Boris to start settling old scores...

    3. Archtech Silver badge

      Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

      I believe the following article gives a good brief explanation of why the Supreme Court exceeded its powers and, essentially, overthrew the British Constitution.

      http://www.theblogmire.com/the-inglorious-revolution-of-2019/

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

      Just as the "Supreme Court" overruled the High Court and declared itself legally superior to Parliament.

      The word "supreme" should be a bit of a hint although if you're thinking about the decisions in the cases Gina Miller brought you should check again. Those decisions were in favour of Parliament. The first prevented the PM acting without the authority of Parliament and the second said that the PM was telling porkies (Bojo telling porkies - surely not!) to HMQ to prorogue Parliament. The latter attempt to take Parliament out of the equation is reminiscent of Charles I. Bojo should be grateful the court only struck out the prorogation; things went less well last time.

      1. Archtech Silver badge

        Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

        The attempt to distinguish between the PM's actions and the will of Parliament is doomed. In constitutional terms, the PM is nothing but the spokesperson of Parliament (ignoring the House of Lords which has no serious relevance).

        The PM is the leader of the majority party - or of a coalition should no party have a workable majority. The will of Parliament, of course, is determined by majority voting. Thus, constitutionally speaking, whatever the PM says and does must express the will of the majority in the House of Commons.

        To attempt to drive a wedge between the government and the House of Commons, as the Supreme Court decision did, is to create a distinction where none legally exists.

        Divide and conquer.

        1. mantavani

          Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

          Your assumption only holds water on condition that the PM in question actually commands a working majority in the House, rather than just behaving like he does.

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Arbitrary law is reappearing

          >The attempt to distinguish between the PM's actions and the will of Parliament is doomed.

          Err no, as a number of former PM's have clearly demonstrated, they only act will with the will of Parliament if they have actually asked Parliament and got Parliaments assent. At no time did BoJo engage with Parliament to determine that it's 'will' was to support the proroguing of Parliament ie. the relinquishing of Parliamentary sovereignty to the Crown and the Crown's representative in Parliament; the Prime Minister.

          What is clear from the article you linked to, it's author has a very poor understanding of the UK constitutional settlement.

          Fundamentally, if Parliament is sovereign - something many Brexiteers bang on about, then it is illegal for a PM, without Parliament's express approval, to go to the Sovereign and prorogue Parliament.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Doesn't everyone have the power to break the law, but if you chose to use that power, you don't have immunity to that breaking of the law??

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Breaking the Law on Earth

      I think then, AC, one accepts full responsibility and accountability for subsequent future activity.

  9. Nigel Sedgwick

    Earlier Thoughts, from 2011 and 2013

    The limits of government and of spying

    Best regards

  10. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Interesting judgment.

    Going to be even more interesting post-Brexit when the EU has to decide on the UK's acceptability in terms of privacy protection for data sharing.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It just shows the weakness of the State

    A couple of decades ago a Kiwi bloke who responds to the initials R. T. had a bit of a run-in with his former employer, MI6 in this case, and had a rough few years afterwards (time in the clink and all) until he served France for a couple years (in the Legion, early medical discharge ISTR) and then they (the French) left him alone. A very interesting chap whom I had the pleasure to meet years ago.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We are a nation of laws

    One law for them, another for you...

  13. Danny 2 Silver badge

    (among other things, writing “Cecil King, one of our agents”)
    It's still not mentioned on his Wikipedia page that he was an MI5 agent. It does mention his coup plot.

    King was involved in, and may have instigated, a bizarre 1968 meeting with Louis Mountbatten, among others, in which he proposed that Harold Wilson's government be overthrown and replaced with a temporary administration headed by Mountbatten.

    He had no support from them for this, so he decided to override the editorial independence of the Mirror and wrote and instructed to be published a front-page article calling on Wilson to be removed by some sort of extra-parliamentary action.

    I got two downvotes 10 days ago for mentioning that was covered by The Crown. I should probably have quoted Spycatcher instead.

    So how does a judiciary legislate a government agency that has openly tried to do away with our veneer democracy? Protonmail wrote a blog post criticising MI5 and the next day they were ddosed off the internet for weeks. Oh, an interesting that the night after Boris got elected his first engagement was to attend the birthday party of a billionaire KGB agent.

    This is a fun fact from the Wilson government, old London buses were being exported to Cuba against US wishes, and the ship they were on was sunk in the Thames to stop Castro gaining Routemaster technology. You'd only know that though if you read the Christic Institute lawsuits, or if you are a big Alan Moore or Iain Banks fan.

    God Save the MI5

    God save our gracious Mi5,

    Long live our noble MI5,

    God save the MI5;

    Send Q victorious,

    Happy and glorious,

    Long to reign over us,

    God save the MI5.

  14. Aodhhan

    It's just like being a spy in the US

    You can break the law in the USA if you work for certain areas of the US Gov't.

    For instance, you can sell weapons to Mexican drug cartels (even when they will be used to kill US citizens), not follow the law on recording and retention of government documents, lie to the American people about what really happened in Bengazi to name several.

    Let's not forget the latest items. Such as overturn an election for POTUS, lie to the FISA court, leak confidential information to the press, etc.

    If you want to break any law, get elected to the US House of Representatives. You don't even have to worry about the separation of powers clause, or the court system. You can even outright lie to the public, and say anything at all on the floor or committees of the House!

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. localzuk

    Consequences are for the proles

    We've long known this - whilst the law may apply to the rich, powerful, ministers, prime ministers, spies etc... What actually matters is the consequences.

    The reality is that the organisation that would bring any prosecution is controlled by the government - the CPS. They have absolute control over this agency, as part of the executive. If something is determined to be covered by "national security", at the sole view of the Attorney General, who is appointed by the government of the time, then it is entirely up to them whether it goes ahead.

    Well, unless someone pays for a private prosecution that is... Ha.

    With a majority like the one Boris Johnson has now also, it would be very difficult for anything to stop a change in the law also. So, the Supreme Court's powers are still limited by the government.

  17. david 12

    Which team to support?

    Court brought it back within the pale with a ruling that its decisions are subject to appeal, despite laws establishing the IPT having been explicitly written to ensure they couldn't be

    It's hard to know which teem to barrack against: the government for trying to put themselves above the courts, or the courts for trying to put themselves above the government.

  18. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    They are not immune ...

    We all have the same "protection". If we break the law and are caught, then there is a chance that the CPS will decline to prosecute for any number of reasons, including "it's not in the public interest", in which case we have got away with it.

    The only difference being the probability that the CPS will decide not to prosecute ...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You and them

    Laws are for subjects, to keep them in line.

    Don't forget your place or you won't have one.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020