Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Are the SIS in contempt of the House?

Over the weekend, we learned that the SIS, in the name of "defending our democracy", had been spying on Green MP Keith Locke. This spying included not just collecting information on his activities in the House, but also spying on his private meetings with constituents. Which raises an interesting question: are the SIS in contempt of Parliament for doing so?

Contempt of Parliament is defined in Standing Order 400 (1) as follows:

The House may treat as a contempt any act or omission which—

(a) obstructs or impedes the House in the performance of its functions, or
(b) obstructs or impedes any member or officer of the House in the discharge of the member’s or officer’s duty, or
(c) has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such a result.

Merely passively monitoring Locke's activities as an MP from public sources is clearly not a contempt (though it may be contemptible). Monitoring his travel may be, as it may be seen as an attempt to obstruct or intimidate (intimidating a member in the course of their duties is enumerated in SO 401 (l) as an example of Contempt). Spying on his meetings with his constituents definitely is. Meeting with constituents and discussing their concerns is a core part of an MP's job. Spying on them interferes with that duty, both directly, and indirectly in that knowledge that meetings are monitored may make people less likely to raise concerns. On the face of it then, the SIS have committed a contempt. and they should be held to account for it.