Intelligence agencies can monitor MPs, tribunal rules

Investigatory Powers Tribunal says Wilson Doctrine has 'no legal effect'

By Josh May

14 Oct 2015

Wilson Doctrine has 'no legal effect', tribunal rules A long-standing rule which protects parliamentarians from being be spied on by the intelligence agencies has “no legal effect” and does not apply to mass data collection, a tribunal has found.

The so-called 'Wilson Doctrine' doctrine is based on former prime minister Harold Wilson’s statement in 1966 that there should be “no tapping of the telephones of members of parliament”. He also said any change to the policy would be accompanied by a statement from the Prime Minister “at such moment as seemed compatible with the security of the country”.

Green MP Caroline Lucas, Green peer Baroness Jones, and former MP George Galloway brought a case before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), arguing that it was likely that programmes exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were being used to intercept their communications.

Dominic Grieve named head of committee overseeing intelligence agencies
ISC criticises 'male mentality' of security services
Interview: Shami Chakrabarti

In its ruling, however, the IPT ruled that parliamentarians could have no “substantive legitimate expectation” that their correspondence not be caught up in mass surveillance systems as a result of the Wilson Doctrine.

“It applies to targeted, but not incidental, interception of parliamentarians’ communications,” the IPT said. The ruling also endorsed the claim that the doctrine was “a political statement in a political context, encompassing the ambiguity that is sometimes to be found in political statements”.

Lucas described the ruling as a “body blow for parliamentary democracy”.

“My constituents have a right to know that their communications with me aren’t subject to blanket surveillance – yet this ruling suggests that they have no such protection,” she added.

Read the most recent articles written by Josh May - Think tank calls for new cross-departmental drive to boost social mobility

Share this page