By David Stringer
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
LONDON, Dec. 1 -- A decision by London's anti-terrorism police to arrest a lawmaker and raid his offices in an inquiry into the leaking of sensitive documents has triggered a passionate debate about democracy and the historic rights of Parliament in Britain.
Police arrested opposition Conservative Party lawmaker Damian Green last week and searched his House of Commons office as part of an investigation into the alleged leaking of sensitive government documents by a junior law-and-order official. Green was held for nine hours and released without charge.
Some officials said the police action was an infringement on privileges legislators have enjoyed for hundreds of years. A senior Labor Party lawmaker, Harriet Harman, called for an urgent review to make sure Parliament members "are able to get on with their job without unwarranted interference by the law."
Police and soldiers have been forbidden to enter Parliament without permission since King Charles I sent in troops to arrest a group of lawmakers in 1642.
Last week's raid on Green's offices was sanctioned by the offices of Michael Martin, a Labor Party lawmaker and speaker of the House of Commons. Martin's department controls all access to Parliament.
Both Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, whose department has overall responsibility for the police, insist they did not know what the police intended to do, but told legislators they cannot be regarded as above the law.
"Police should carry out investigations without fear or favor. That's a principle I believe," Smith said Monday. "Nobody is above the law."
A group of legislators has threatened to protest Martin's decision to allow the police to search Green's offices by attempting to disrupt an annual ceremony Wednesday, when Queen Elizabeth II will travel to the House of Lords to formally open a new parliamentary year .
Officers from London's counterterrorism policing unit raided Green's offices and home on Thursday. The action followed the arrest on Nov. 19 of junior government official Christopher Galley, who police suspect passed documents from Britain's Home Office to Green, the Conservative Party's spokesman on immigration.
Green was arrested in Kent, a county in southern England, police said. Neither man has been charged with an offense, but officers said their inquiries are continuing.
Galley, an aspiring Conservative legislator, had unsuccessfully applied to Green for a job and later allegedly passed confidential files to the lawmaker, including a warning from Smith to the prime minister that crime levels are likely to rise as a result of the global economic downturn.
Police seized a cellphone and a computer in searches in Parliament. Green's wife, Alicia, said detectives also rifled through rooms at the couple's London home and seized bundles of documents, including love letters the husband and wife exchanged more than 30 years ago.