Northern Ireland was plunged into a new slough of despond this evening with the news that Peter Curistan has turned up at Brooklyn with a constitutional bombshell for the Chief Constable.
He complains of words spoken by Peter Robinson, paragon of virtue and man of rectitude, in the House of Commons on 8th February 2006.
Stifle, Dear Reader , your surprise at the elapse of almost ten years since this outrage.
According to his solicitors KRWLAW , “human rights lawyers,solicitor advocates” he alleges “criminal malfeasance in public office by the First Minister , Peter Robinson MLA”
The activity complained of took place, not while Mr Robinson was an MLA at all but when he was a MP. Mr Curistan alleges that this activity has damaged his personal and business reputation.
Stopping there , one might have some sympathy with a man whose reputation has been damaged by words spoken in the House of Commons. It is not an unusual event, especially where Northern Ireland is concerned. It is alleged that these words are without foundation.
Mr Curistan is fortified in his complaint because he recently sought KRWLAW’s advice and they engaged the services “of a ‘leading’ , not just any , Queen’s Counsel with vast expertise in criminal law.” KRWLAW go on “That Q.C. is [one almost expects ‘none other than’ and a drum roll and clash of cymbals] Mr Eugene Grant, a former Chair of the Bar Council of Northern Ireland”
My devoted readers will know that I have a certain view of this country, summed up as ‘a banana republic without the bananas’
Some of you will have acquired a smattering of legal expertise.
So let’s get down to it.
There is no such offence as “criminal misfeasance in a public office”.
There is the common law criminal offence of “misconduct in a public office” to which I shall return.
Misfeasance in a public office is a tort, which is a civil wrong for which the remedy is , generally, damages. Interestingly, Mr Curistan has chosen not to sue Mr Robinson in the Civil Courts. That may have something to do with the delay in his complaint or the costs involved. I do not know. The day following Mr Robinson’s statement Mr Curistan could have issued civil proceedings. He did not.
Instead , I think, though because of the poor quality of the KRWLAW press release, I cannot be sure , Mr Curistan is urging the Chief Constable to investigate a crime.
At this point Curistan, KRWLAW and Grant “leading Q.C.” come up against one of the great products of the Protestant Glorious Revolution, The Bill of Rights 1688.
It provides “that the Freedome of Speech and Debates in Parlyament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parlyament”
Halsbury, the book of reference on these matters, says that the law is settled. A Member of Parliament cannot be pursued in the courts for what he says in Parliament. It is known as parliamentary privilege. Perhaps, though, the Bill of Rights is an enactment whose time has ended. We shall see. Meantime lights burn late at Brooklyn while the Chief Constable and his advisers consider the greatest challenge to the constitution since Guy Fawkes. Wait a minute! What timing!
It is a distraction , for those in abject poverty in many areas of Northern Ireland. It is a welcome relief for the workers at Michelin. It is a change from boring old news about our dysfunctional education system , our underachieving health system and our dangerous prisons, in which men in the lowest centiles of IQ are locked up.
Who knows where this crisis will end? Is Parliament, as we know it , doomed? After all it is only 498 years since the notice was nailed to the door in Wittenberg.
This crisis may outlive the last crisis…when was the deadline….?