The most secretive court in Britain is to stage a one of a kind public hearing in order to determine whether there is any legality behind the historic political doctrine that the British intelligence services are not permitted to intercept e-mails and phone conversations of members of parliament. The agreement to stage a hearing by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal comes after two MPs from the Green part; Caroline Lucas and Lady Jones, made complaints following leaked disclosures by Edwards Snowden made it obvious that GCHQ were monitoring and intercepting their communications which is contrary to the Wilson Doctrine.
Counsel for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, Kate Granger told the Tribunal that her clients wanted to exercise their right for the hearing to take place behind closed doors without the public or media having access to the procedure. She justified this request by saying “it may well be that we would want to say something in closed about the past policy or practice in relation to the Wilson Doctrine”.
The doctrine dates back to former Prime Minister Harold Wilson who in 1966 made a pledge that peers and MPs would not have their phones tapped. Further, in 1997 the then Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that the doctrine would extend to e-mails as well as other types of electronic communication. The power to keep the policy remains with all subsequent Prime Ministers who must inform other MPs of any changes should they wish to make such. The two complainant MPs however argue that the Wilson Doctrine must be enforced in the legal system and said that the large scale interception by GCHQ must be unlawful.
Mr Justice Burton, who is the president of the tribunal stated that he firstly wished to provide a judgement on the legality of the doctrine and whether it had any force in law. He continued to say that if the outcome was that the doctrine did not carry with it any legal force then the Tribunal will proceed to make the “usual inquiries” of the relevant agencies in order to provide a judgment on whether the MPs communications had indeed been bugged.
Mr Justice Burton rejected the proposal of the security agencies to hold parts of the hearing behind closed doors on the ground that it would spark criticism of the Tribunal itself. However, Mr Burton refused to grant the lawyers representing the two MPs with a copy of the orders which were granted to the agencies following the lodged complaint.