Friday, 28 November 2008

The arrest of Damian Green

Today we read of the arrest of Damian Green, an opposition politician, on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office. The alleged misconduct appears to be the leaking of Home Office documents connected with immigration and other matters.

There is as yet no sign that any of the leaks imperilled national security, and every sign that they were merely intensely embarrassing to the Government. If a civil servant did leak them, that civil servant would have been in breach of his duty, although he might not have committed misconduct in a public office because there is a public interest defence to that offence.

We will have to wait for more information on what was involved in this case. But as things look at the moment, it does make a very strong case for changing the rules so that all Government documents are made publicly available when that would not give the game away to criminals or terrorists. (I am against publicising methods used by the armed forces, the security services and the police, or how our weapons work, or the names of our spies.) There was nothing wrong with the documents already mentioned by the press coming into the public domain. Any civil servant who leaks such material, and any MP or journalist who publicises it, should not be prosecuted for anything at all. We need to be defended against the folly and abuse to which all governments are prone, and there can be no surer defence than our being able to see what they are up to. Plato had some funny ideas about government, but in saying that the guardians should go about their business in a way that was open to all to inspect, and in the interests of all, he was absolutely right (Republic, 416-420).

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