Friday, November 28, 2008

It gets worse

So, what is "misconduct in a public office" anyway? The City of London Police have their definition here, and the Uk Crown Prosecution Service has their prosecution guidelines here. According to the latter, it requires:

a) A public officer acting as such.

b) Wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself.

c) To such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public's trust in the office holder.

d) Without reasonable excuse or justification.

It's a common law offence, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Technically the charge is "conspiring to commit" and "aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring" misconduct in a public office, so the penalty could be lower (that depends on UK conspiracy law; in NZ it would simply make him a party liable for the full penalty), so the underlying crime alleged here is that a Member of the Opposition encouraged public servants to leak to him - and that those leaks were misconduct. And to my mind, that is simply bullshit. Leaks are an essential part of democratic discourse, and using them to hold the government to account an opposition politician's duty. Threatening them with life imprisonment for doing so is simply Stalinism.

A reader also pointed me at a consultation paper from the Committee on Standards in Public Life on the issue, which pointed to a law Commission report calling it "wide-ranging and ill-defined" (now where have we heard that before?) and recommended that it be replaced with a statutory offence for clarity. They made this recommendation in 1997. I guess things move slowly in the UK.

Finally, a couple of further notes: the Independent reports that counter-terrorism officers were involved in the search (so, holding the government to account is now "terrorism"), while the BBC has this interesting line:

He was questioned, but has not been charged and was bailed until February.
Which is itself absurd. how can you be bailed if you have not been charged? What sort of a police state are they running over there now?