MPs ‘above the law’ with phone-taps

The rules banning phone-taps on MPs should be lifted, the interception of communications commissioner has argued.

In his annual and final report into intelligence gathering, Sir Swinton Thomas has called for the end of the so-called Wilson Doctrine, in order that no person is seen as being “above the law”.

In 1966 Harold Wilson established that MPs’ phones should not be intercepted, with Tony Blair last year confirming the Wilson Doctrine should be maintained.

Sir Swinton argues the doctrine no longer applies, with the interception of communications now the primary source of intelligence on terrorism and serious crime. Retaining the exception means MPs or peers can engage in such activities without the risk of investigation, the commissioner warns.

Many ministers and MPs seem “determined this state of affairs should continue”, Sir Swinton notes, even though none can offer a “principled or logical argument” for it. The commissioner does not suggest any MPs are currently engaged in serious crime or terrorism, but maintains it is foolish to imagine this could never be the case.

Moreover, he warns that the Wilson Doctrine establishes MPs as “above the law”.

Sir Swinton argued: “It is fundamental to the constitution of this country that no-one is above the law or is seen to be above the law.

“But in this instance, MPs and peers are anything but equal with the rest of the citizens of this country and are above the law.”

The report, published yesterday, also warns against the use of intercept evidence in criminal trials.

Sir Swinton explained intercept evidence is invaluable in combating terrorism and serious crime. However, he is concerned criminals would stop providing “valuable” intercept information if they knew it would be used in evidence against them.

He argued: “The introduction of intercept material in the criminal process in this country would put at risk the effectiveness of the agencies on whom we rely in the fight against terrorists and serious criminals, might well result in less convictions and more acquittals and, most important of all, the ability of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to detect and disrupt terrorism.”