Clearly our recent posts about Alistair Carmichael and the Official Secrets Act vote have caused enormous interest. We are a little blog run from a burrow at the back of Stromness that normally gets a few hits a day but over the last week it has been something like 10,000. We are all thrilled. Mrs Vole has put out the flags and the volets are bragging to all their children.
We are glad that Alistair Carmichael has responded with his rationale for the vote. Various people have been kind enough to send us what he said to them and we thought it appropriate to quote him in full. I can understand why he did not want to contact me himself, I am only a vole and so not entitled to parliamentary representation until ARS (additional rodent system) is adopted, a policy no party has yet suggested.
This is what Carmichael said,
“The vote concerned was a proposed amendment to the Official Secrets Act which would have created a defence for anyone charged with unlawful disclosure under that act. The defence was for the accused to show that the disclosure was made in relation to an official enquiry into child sex abuse. I voted against it because a disclosure of this sort is already permitted and therefore a defence is not necessary.
As the Solicitor General explained in the House of Commons, “The Official Secrets Act is intended to protect certain classes of particularly sensitive information such as security and intelligence matters, and it provides for a number of offences that prevent current or former Crown servants or government contractors from disclosing certain information without lawful authority. It does not prevent protected information from being disclosed to an officer of an official investigation or inquiry into historical child abuse.”
I understand that this issue will have come to your attention through an anonymous blog from a nationalist campaign group. The same story is being used by SNP activists in other parts of Scotland so it is obviously part of a concerted campaign of misinformation.
Having worked with the victims of child sex abuse, both as a lawyer and as an MP, I have seen for myself how it can ruin lives. I also know how difficult it can be to get victims to come forward and I am afraid that suggesting that there is a barrier to proper investigation where none exists will make that more difficult still.
This was not an amendment to “allow investigation of historic child abuse cases” as the headline in the article states. There is nothing in law that prevents such investigations taking place.”
And Peter Kennedy has commented on the previous post, kindly providing us with part of Carmichael’s text and saying that as a family lawyer, he believes that he is right. We respect this and accept that our statement saying that Carmichael blocked the investigation was rather crude. Indeed, there is nothing to block an investigation from taking place and one has now been created. The question is about what would stop potential witnesses giving evidence to it. Under normal circumstances, I am sure Peter Kennedy is right, it is widely understood that there is no duty of confidentiality more important than the protection of the child. These are not usual circumstances.
The need for a specific defence
This vote was about creating a particular defence for government employees who may have been involved in cover ups who now what to speak up – people who want to give evidence to the Inquiry but are nervous about doing so in case of getting prosecuted or persecuted. . Some of them clearly feel that this specific defence is needed even after the assurances have been made by the Home Secretary. When questioned by Keith Vaz on 17th March 2015, she said that she ‘hopes and expects’ that those who contravene the Official Secrets Act will not be prosecuted, but it must be for Justice Goddard and the Attorney General to decide.” It is clear from her reply, that if people did speak to the inquiry without due authority or if that had been refused, they may actually break the law and so be at risk. They would be dependent on assurances being made not to prosecute. That would not make this vole feel safe. Nor indeed does it work for many Special Branch officers, watch what John Mann said in the House of Commons as he supported the amendment.