Alleged MP phone hacking 'may be contempt'

Hacking into MPs’ phones could amount to contempt of Parliament, a Commons committee found today.

The finding came in a report by the cross-party Standards and Privileges Committee into the implications of recent allegations that journalists eavesdropped on mobile phone voicemail messages.

The MPs found that hacking could be contempt if it can be shown to have interfered with the work of the House or obstructed an MP in his or her work, as well as if it made the operation of the Commons more difficult by creating “a climate of insecurity”.

But the report – which did not look into individual complaints from MPs and former MPs, including Lord Prescott and Chris Bryant – suggested that members should pursue legal remedies under the civil and criminal law rather than start contempt proceedings against suspected hackers.

And it recommended that “only in exceptional circumstances should a hacker who has been brought before a court of law be proceeded against subsequently for contempt”.

The report stated: “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.”

Labour frontbencher Chris Bryant said: “Constituents regularly leave messages for MPs on their mobile phones and expect those messages to remain confidential.

“Likewise, ministers and MPs leave messages for parliamentary colleagues, whose confidentiality can be vital for the proper running of Parliament, the Government and for national security.

“That’s why I am delighted that the Standards and Privileges Committee has agreed that the deliberate hacking of MPs’ phones can be a constructive contempt of Parliament.

“I am glad it also suggests that newspaper editors, where such a contempt has occurred, can be summoned to the Bar of the House of Commons to be reprimanded by the whole House.

“The most important thing now is that the Metropolitan Police do a thorough investigation into illegal hacking by the News of the World and that one day we know the full extent of the criminality at the paper.

“We already know that several MPs’ phones were hacked. The editors and senior management of the News of the World should be summoned to the House to explain themselves.”

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