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Phone hacking could potentially be contempt, says Standards and Privileges Committee

The House of Commons Select Committee on Standards and Privileges has published its Report on Privilege: Hacking of Members’ Mobile Phones. The Report presents the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations following its inquiry into the matter referred to it by the House in September 2010.

As announced last September, the committee has not looked into specific allegations of hacking, some of which are currently under investigation by the prosecuting authorities or may become the subject of judicial review. Instead, the committee has considered whether hacking of MPs' mobile phones, if it has occurred, may be a contempt of Parliament.

The committee has concluded that a specific act of hacking could potentially be a contempt, if it can be shown to have interfered with the work of the House or to have impeded or obstructed an MP from taking part in such work. It has also concluded that a series of acts of hacking could potentially be a contempt, if it can be shown that the hacking has interfered with the work of the House by creating a climate of insecurity for one or more MPs.

The committee looks forward to publication by the Government of a draft Privileges Bill in the present Session of Parliament. It proposes that the draft Bill should include a definition of what is meant by 'contempt of Parliament' and that the Bill should codify Parliament’s powers to impose sanctions, including a power for the House of Commons to fine. 

The committee points out that hacking is an offence under the criminal law—although it also notes that the law as it relates to hacking is currently being reviewed by another Committee of the House—and that civil law remedies may be available to MPs, just as they are available to others. It suggests that MPs and the House should pursue legal remedies in preference to proceeding against hackers for contempt. And it recommends that only in exceptional circumstances should a hacker who has been brought before a court of law be proceeded against subsequently for contempt.

In the view of the committee, there should be no special provision made in law to provide MPs or Parliament with remedies for phone hacking through the courts that are not available to other victims of hacking. The law must apply equally to all.

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