Phone hacking: the next step


Amidst all the sound and fury around the interest-rate fixing scandal, a reminder that the phone hacking fandango hasn't gone away: the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee has just published details of its next moves on case of the individuals accused of misleading parliament by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and their approach could allow the tables to be turned.

In their last report into phone hacking, the Culture Committee included the finding that the committee had been misled by former News International staff, Les Hinton, Colin Myner and Tom Crone - and the Commons voted to refer the matter to S&P to decide its response.

That turns out to be more complicated that one might imagine. First the S&P note that the Commons has more or less renounced its "penal jurisdiction" - its power to jail people who offend it. Second, they make it clear that, if they uphold the verdict of the Culture Committee, they will not recommend any punishment beyond "admonishment" - a good telling-off. So no fines and no prison.

But note the key words: "should the committee find any of the allegations… to be proved…" In other words, S&P will re-investigate the Culture Committee investigation, rather than simply accept their conclusions as fact. It will launch into an elaborate process, verging on an appeal trial. The three accused will be invited to respond in writing and in person to the findings against them.

And "such submissions may include additional questions which the subjects of the inquiry consider should be explored with key witnesses or other relevant parties".

So S&P can cross examine the witnesses against them - and this wording may open the door to the questioning of the behaviour of Culture Committee members and the manner in which they reached their conclusions.

And there's another important quote: "When considering the allegations against the subjects of the inquiry, the committee will apply the same standard of proof as applied to allegations against members, as set out in the Procedural Note of 24 April 2012 from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards."

What this boils down to is that S&P is bending over backwards to ensure the three get a fair chance to rebut the allegations against them; the ancient procedures by which Parliament could once punish those who displeased it are not human rights-compliant, and, if exercised, could result in a swift and humiliating excursion to Strasbourg for the Commons authorities.

This may account for one of the interesting nuances of the Commons resolution which referred the case to S&P - the committee originally planned to ask the House to endorse its finding that the three had misled it; the resolution which was actually voted on noted that finding.

And the bottom line is that the accusers, the Culture Committee, may find themselves as much under the spotlight as the accused.

Mark D'Arcy, Parliamentary correspondent Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Shame the previous post on Treasury Select Committee (SC) & Diamond is closed for comment.

    Very interesting: some of the SC members worked for Barclays de Zoete Wett (BZW) and the chair was SPAD to Nigel Lawson during City deregulation. Strong case for a judicial inquiry, "Pecora" style.

    More reason why the S&P SC membership should be similarly examined & exposed for any media connections.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    It's a pity that 'I cannot recall' doesn't qualify as a misleading statement

    That WAS meant to be flippant but actually it flags up an issue with these enquiries, both judicial & parliamentary. In a criminal case a 'I don't remember' response either casts the defense or prosecution in a negative light. In a situation where the SYSTEM is on trial it's an effective way of protecting an individual

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    If any one wanted further evidence as to the ineffectualness of toothless parliamentary committees apart from their inability to ask forensic and probing questions and rampant partizan approaches this is it. British public has every right to heap scorn on these ineffectual parasites, time servers and posturers .... made even worse by the brawling in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It is important that these individuals have the chance to respond to any criticisms made by the earlier select committee investigation.

    It is also important that neither this Standards & Privileges Committee "appeal" style hearing nor Leveson & CPS become diverted, distracted or delayed and hence disrupted from their forensic examinations tasks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    "they make it clear that, if they uphold the verdict of the Culture Committee, they will not recommend any punishment beyond "admonishment" - a good telling-off. So no fines & no prison"

    So the Culture Committee have no teeth and the Standards & Privileges Committee have no intention of biting! What a waste of time and space. And what prospect for any real justice in the interest fixing fraud?


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