A law that should be repealed
The more I read about the common law offence of “aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” the more I am convinced that it is dangerously vague and bad law, and should be abolished.
A number of journalists including Sam Coates and Matthew Parris in The Times and Nick Cohen in the Guardian have written very powerful articles on this. With superbly ironic timing, a case which had been brought involving the same charge against journalist Sally Murrer collapsed the day after Damian Green was arrested. Nick Cohen writes a damning and frightening account of the way that case was prepared here.
Some of the reactions to the Green arrest comparing the present government to Robert Mugabe are a little over the top. But it is not exaggerating to say that if you could ask the people of my father's generation who fought and in many cases died to defend this country from Hitler what they were fighting for, some of them would have listed keeping this the sort of country where you could not be arbitrarily arrested for criticising the government as being one of those aims.
The arrest of Sally Murrer shows that this is not just about defending the privileges of politicians, but about keeping Britain a free country for all of us. As Matthew Parris writes,
"The common law offence of “aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” sets such a ridiculously low hurdle that thousands of my colleagues in the newspaper industry, many MPs, most Opposition spokesmen, and innumerable helpfully indiscreet police officers would be behind bars if every offence was investigated and prosecuted. Much journalism would become impossible, legitimate questioning and debate by MPs would be ruled out, and activity in the public interest would be outlawed."
You can read his full article here.
A law that can be used to arrest anyone from a senior opposition politician to a part-time journalist on a small local newspaper on what appears in both cases to be wholly inadeqate grounds has no place on the statute book of a modern democracy.