Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A Question Of Trust ?

For once, things actually got interesting in the Senedd yesterday when a heated spat blew up between Plaid Cymru AM - Adam Price - and the the First Minister - Welsh Labour's Carwyn Jones. As many will already know, the First Minister is already under investigation over claims of a bullying culture that exists within the Welsh Government and into claims that he has been deliberately misleading the Senedd. This all came to a head due the tragic and unexpected death of one of Jones own AM's in Carl Sargeant,

That investigation is ongoing with many claims and counter-claims that the inquiry is already flawed. But it has led to a rather interesting and tense atmosphere in the Senedd, especially during First Ministers Questions, as many clearly have the scent of a First Minister fighting for his political life.

However, the spat yesterday was interesting given that there are now threats of legal action over whether the First Minister has breached the Data Protection Act. You can read about it as reported on the BBC Wales website this morning here.

I am not going to go into the legalities of what is being claimed - that is for a court of law to determine if it gets that far - and I am not about to blog opinions on something that may become a court case. But it does raise some interesting questions.

Adam Price later tweeted about the matter:

And Plaid Cymru themselves later confirmed they are pursuing this:

 For those unaware of how the Senedd works, '@yLlywydd' in the tweet above refers to the Welsh Assembly equivalent of Westminster's Speaker of the House (John Bercow). The present 'Llywydd' is Elin Jones.

As most people know, the emails of Assembly Members are available for anyone to examine under the Freedom Of Information Act, as long as they are emails held by the Welsh Government email system (it would not extend to an AMs personal emails on a personal service - such as GMail - for example). Therefore, it is quite possible that any member of the public could have got access to the emails mentioned by Carwyn Jones. There are some rules, so some emails can be excluded from FOI if, for example, the contents of said email could be something with might compromise national security. There are obviously many things that Politicians discuss behind closed doors which the general public cannot be privy to for obvious reasons (such as national security).

It is also true that the Welsh Government email system is considered a corporate email system and therefore anybody using that email system - employees AND AMs - would be subject to their emails being analysed by the Welsh Government at any time if there was just cause for viewing them (e.g.  such as the employee and/or AM being suspected of illegal activity). So again, nobody in the Welsh Govt can expect any email they send or receive to remain personal.

However, what can be questioned is 'how' the First Minister got hold of the emails in question that he used to attack Adam Price. If he asked Welsh Government staff to retrieve those emails for him to use, then he would have needed to go through a formal process, which would have been logged and recorded, which would include the reasons why he wanted such information and on what grounds he could expect to have a right to see them. Furthermore, the person whose emails he has asked to see would also have the right to know that such a request had been made. Adam Price's reaction in the Senedd would seem to indicate that he was unaware that any such thing had taken place.

Of course, it is also possible that the emails were supplied by the Health Board themselves, as is their right because they were also involved in the exchange. However given the recent bullying claims that were made in some quarters, as reported by ITV News here, then one could also legitimately ask if those emails were given willingly or under duress.

A further complication in any legal proceeding would be the concept of 'Parliamentary Privilege'. This means that Ministers enjoy a legal immunity from criminal or civil proceedings for actions or statements done in the performance of their Ministerial duties.

A fuller explanation is given on Wikipedia here.

Now whether Parliamentary Privilege applies in the Senedd I do not know. I am sure that guidance is held somewhere, possibly on the Welsh Government website itself. But even Parliamentary Privilege only gets you so far. Breaches of the Data Protection Act can, and should, override any such 'Privilege'. But we all know that buried deep in the Legislations around Parliaments are often surprising 'get-out' clauses or 'immunities'.

So, as I said at the start, these are indeed interesting time in the Senedd. Rather than the same old bland 'business as usual' things seem to have been stirred up in recent months in the Senedd and the tension is rising and rising. This particular episode may yet even end up in the Law Courts.

But one has to ask how much longer the First Minister can keep his tenuous hold on his office. A fingernail grip can only last for so long. And if he does fall, how many others would he take with him ?

Welsh Politics has taken a turn toward the 'interesting'. About bloody time too. 

I will certainly be watching with interest.

No comments:

Post a Comment