When the name of Elizabeth Butler-Sloss was mooted as the judge to take on the inquest into the deaths of Diana POW and Dodi Fayed, I thought it an uncontroversial choice. Her background is in family law, she helped choose the new archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, and she's now retired to academia. But a posting on Usenet has alerted me to her former chairmanship of the Security Commission, which is an appendage of the Cabinet Office.
The Security Commission is a somewhat shadowy organ. The earliest recent list of members I can find was made public in 1998 in a written answer to a House of Lords question.
Wednesday, 29th July 1998. Security Commission: Membership
Lord Davies of Coity asked Her Majesty's Government: What is the latest membership of the Security Commission. [HL3159]
The Leader of the House (Baroness Jay of Paddington): The Prime Minister has recently appointed Sir John Foley and Sir Clive Whitmore to serve as members of the Security Commission. They have succeeded Sir Derek Boorman and Sir Christopher Curwen.
The current membership of the Commission is: The Rt Hon The Lord Lloyd of Berwick (Chairman); The Rt Hon Lady Justice Butler-Sloss DBE (Alternative Chairman); Sir John Blelloch KCB; Sir John Foley KCB OBE MC; Lord Tombs of Brailes; Sir Clive Whitmore GCB CVO.
Butler-Sloss stood down from the SC in the second half of 2005, so she served for at least seven years and perhaps longer.
The original remit of the commission was set in 1964, when it was founded by then-PM Alec Douglas-Hume.
"If so requested by the Prime Minister[,] to investigate and report upon the circumstances in which a breach of security is known to have occurred in the public service, and upon any related failure of departmental security arrangements or neglect of duty; and, in the light of any such investigation, to advise whether any change in security arrangements is necessary or desirable."
It's only ever had to report to the PM roughly twenty times since '64. If, for example, a spy is unmasked, or allegedly unmasked , the SC will investigate and make recommendations. But its most well-reported work recently has been its role in re-shaping the security of the British royal family. This followed a series of trespasses on to royal property, such as a Fake Osama comedian gate-crashing a birthday party at Windsor. The most serious lapse was the discovery of an undercover journalist working as a footman in Buck Palace, just as GW Bush arrived for an official visit.
AN URGENT review of Royal security was ordered yesterday, after it emerged that an undercover reporter had bluffed his way into a job as a footman at Buckingham Palace and had been assigned to look after staff of the president of the United States during his state visit. (..)
So serious was the lapse that David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, made an emergency statement to parliament yesterday, in which he announced that he had handed over the investigation to an independent commission. (..)
"The Prime Minister, with the support of the Royal household, is therefore asking the Security Commission, an independent body responsible for overseeing breaches of security, to conduct a thorough review," he said. (..) [The Scotsman, 2003.11.20]
The SC published its report on royal security in May 2004. My point is that Butler-Sloss has been protecting the Crown for years, whether it's been the safety of the royal family itself or the security of its agencies such as MI6. Of all the judges who could take on the Diana inquest, is the one who is demonstrably so close to the Crown and MI6 really the one best suited for such a task?