Home Society Which Matters More: Impunity Or Immunity?

Which Matters More: Impunity Or Immunity?


Certificate of immunity for a diplomat

by Mary W Maxwell

A frequent Commenter to GumshoeNews.com, Speculator 247, has asked Gumshoe to answer the following question:

“Government persons act like they can commit crime with impunity. At the same time, they do, to some extent, try to obscure and keep a great deal of these actions out of the public’s awareness. Also, they’ve led the people to believe that spies/diplomats are allowed by law to do things that most of us would be prosecuted for. So I wondered if that idea was recorded anywhere, and does it extend to others whom we may not recognize as spies/diplomats?”

In the above byline I did not append LLB to my name, as I am not sufficiently confident that I am going to give up-to-date law here. But I can certainly give the spirit of the law, which has not changed.

First, Speculator’s statement that “Government persons act like they can commit crime with impunity” is true.  They DO act like that. But the reason is not that their behavior is legal – surely it is 100% illegal. They get away with it because we don’t crack down on them.

You say it’s hard to crack down on persons who wear the police badge or the judge-y robe? Yep, but you’ve got to do it. To refrain from doing it is to bring chaos.

Chances are, many of the police and judges involved are hoping we will “go to town” on their bad colleagues! Consider their plight. They were trained on the premise that if they saw something wrong, they could go up the chain of command to report it. But unless they are really dense they can see that their bad colleagues are protected by the higher-ups. Indeed they may be carrying out orders from the higher-ups!


Speculator 247 also asks if spies/diplomats can legally commit crimes. This is a matter of huge interest. Let me mention a case in which I thought the answer was Yes.

Back in the days of Iran-Contra affair in the US (late 1980s), some members of the CIA said that the Attorney General had allowed them to use drug money to provide arms in exchange for American hostages. I fell for it. Although I was disgusted that the AG would do that, I did not really notice that he has no authority to do it.

Later I woke up and said ha ha, very funny, the CIA agents were not excused from criminality. All that the AG was saying is that he would, personally, not indict them for crime!

Can those CIA criminals be captured and punished? Yes — why not? One possible way would be for a grand jury to indict the CIA member. Another way is that a state’s police arrest the CIA person and charge him with the relevant crime.

I hear you say “They never do that.” To which I reply “They should. What is their problem?”

The problem is that the CIA person (Speculator’s “spies”) has impunity. That’s not a permission – as immunity is. A person who acts with impunity acts with cheek, chutzpah, bloody nerve. Folks are impressed by that and soon enough they think it’s OK. Note, per the definition of impunity, it is the onlooker who contributes the impunity.


I have just been reading Brutal, by Kevin Weeks, about the Irish mafia in South Boston. Weeks was a street criminal alongside Whitey Bulger. A quote from page 244:

“In the spring of 1997… I heard that Stevie Flemmie had gotten up on the stand at the evidentiary hearings in front of Judge Wolf and announced that he and Jimmy [“Whitey” Bulger] were FBI informants and were given immunity from prosecution, that they had been told that they could commit any crime short of murder. I dropped the book I had in my hand, leaned forward yelling ‘What the fuck’!”

(Please note: Kevin Weeks’ little fuckism there was not a display of shock that the FBI told someone to commit a crime. It had only to do with the fact that Weeks had not until that moment known that his lifetime partner in crime was a grass.)

So here we have a case of the FBI – federal bureau of investigation — telling X that X had immunity when really all X was being told was that he should act with impunity.

I hear you say, “Mary, are you totally naïve? The FBI needs to give their informants a free hand so they can help monitor crims.” (Oops, I’d better not comment on whether the FBI has any interest in crims!) Let’s concentrate on Mary’s naivete.


Speculator seems to ask Does necessity supersede law? I say of course it doesn’t supersede law!  Granted, there’s a law maxim  Necessitas non habet legem – “Necessity has no law.” I take that to mean if you need to break down a neighbor’s door to get access to a safe haven when your life is in danger, the law of trespass must naturally yield.

The maxim doesn’t cover a government formulating a policy to allow criminality.  Should the FBI wish to have such a policy, Congress would have to legislate it. Has Congress done so? No.

Sir Edward Coke invoked the necessity maxim to justify the king seizing goods in time of war. All right, that’s reasonable, since the king is thereby protecting society. I can also imagine a state governor overriding the law by a decree at a moment when common sense says it would be ridiculous for him to be constrained by law.

For the executive of government to tell the spy agencies that they have carte blanche to hurt people or steal property is outrageous. Actually it is very telling: it implies that the spy agency has an agenda other than the good of the people. Salus populi just ain’t their suprema lex.

Gary Webb to the Rescue (Almost)

The Iran-Contra affair is murky in that it (allegedly) had to do with two foreign missions that the CIA was involved in – a war against Lefties in Nicaragua, and the resolution of the crisis in which 52 American embassy personnel in Tehran were held “by the Ayatollah.”

But there is nothing murky about the fact that the CIA was importing cocaine from Nicaragua and distributing it (via gangs such as the Crips and the Bloods) to the ghetto. At one point, journalist Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury and California Congresswoman Maxine Waters presented these facts at a congressional committee meeting.

The denouement, if I remember correctly, was that the Congressman in charge of the committee, Rep Porter Goss, was also in the CIA. He damped down the whole thing and Maxine later lost interest in helping her fellow African Americans who were suffering from the drug problem in the ghetto.

But it didn’t have to end that way.  Nor did the murder of the whistle blower, Gary Webb, need to be suppressed. We could have all done the right thing. His murderers could be languishing in San Quentin right now. The organizers of the drug transport could have been found out. Law is our great weapon. Use it!

Official Secrets Act

As mentioned, it is hard to capture the criminal who works for the covert agencies of one’s own government. Ex-CIA man Al Martin tells us that he and others, including the Brothers Bush, used to have the “right” as CIA persons, to engage in such things as real estate scams or insurance fraud.

This helped put money in their pockets – the rule being that they could keep 15% of the take, for having procured funding for some noble cause that the CIA was supposedly engaged in.

So I can see why Speculator asked: “If there’s nothing in the actual law that authorizes such behavior, then how is this type of thing justified?” Al Martin and George W Bush could, at the very least, justify it to themselves. They were tasked with grabbing money through scams.

It is the fact that the feds had official ways to hide these things, via the sanctioned secrecy of “Langley,” that prevented us doing what we normally do when we encounter a thief.

Commies and Ragheads

But of course Speculator meant “Is there some justification for their criminality that we, the public, might find satisfactory?”  I say No. After World War II, much was justified by the Cold War.  People did accept that a lot of moral rules could be ignored in aid of fighting the big monster – communism.

In a similar way we now have the invented monster, “Islamic terrorist.” Look how we fell into a habit, post 9-11, of breaking all sorts of laws against racial or religious discrimination when it was said that Muslims, even ones born in Australia, were not entitled to the presumption of innocence! In the US, they were rounded up in 2002 with no charges even laid.

The public always falls for it. Mistreatment of citizens is acceptable when an enemy is identified. Have you seen the Youtube video of the residents of Watertown complaining about the way the police and military invaded their homes during the search for the Marathon bomber?

I don’t think any Watertown citizens took action against those home invaders. (The invaded gave the invaders impunity!)

Ordinary Immunity

In Australia the monarch, and only the monarch, has immunity from being charged with a crime. We sometime see a minister step down to take the blame that might be “down to the Crown.”

In a 1974 case in Ireland, where the British government was seen to have wrongly killed an IRA member, a new phrase came up: the queen “had been deceived in her grants.” That is, Her Majesty’s grant of power to this minister or that military commander was misused by him.

No person other than the monarch has immunity. States have “sovereign immunity.” This is related to civil action not crime. “You can’t sue the state.” Actually you can sue the state if Parliament has legislated exceptions. Did you slip on the ice on government property? You can sue and the court may award compensation for your broken leg.

Note that “sovereign immunity” does not relieve any officials of government for crimes they commit. Did a prison guard beat you up? That is most certainly a crime and he can be arrested for it. Would that we would understand this.

Some People Do Have Some Immunity

Three groups of officials do have personal immunity: the first is judges – they can’t be sued for making the wrong ruling in a case (But in Sir William Blackstone’s day judge could be imprisoned for obstructing justice. Yeah, 18th Century!)

The second group is legislators. They can’t be sued for the way they voted. But see my Prosecution for Treason as to the possibility of indicting Congresspersons for treason for ripping up the Constitution.

A third group that has immunity is diplomats. Under the Vienna Convention, states agree to treat a visiting ambassador with kid gloves. In fact he could be arrested for a crime, but commonly the host country contacts the sending country and says “Get him outta here.”

Of course the judiciary sometimes offers immunity in exchange for testimony. As I reported at Gumshoe on August 3, 2016,  the Coroner in the Lindt Café case offered a certificate of immunity to Officer A, who was about to say he killed Man Haron Monis. This meant his words could not be used against him if he were later charged with murdering Monis.


To recap: there is impunity and there is immunity. We should not be so ready to believe there is legal immunity where it does not in fact exist.

Monarchs, diplomats and states have immunity. Judges and legislators do, too, but only when performing certain functions.

Can covert operators do horrible things with immunity? Come on, wake up, of course not. They have impunity, and that is your gift to them.

— Mary W Maxwell’s next article will be on emergency powers.

Photo credit: keyflux.com


  1. You can get life for stupefying.
    Section 176 of the Northern Terrritory Criminal Code]:

    Any person who, with intent to commit or to facilitate the commission of an indictable offence, or to facilitate the flight of an offender after the commission or attempted commission of an indictable offence, administers, or attempts to administer, any stupefying or overpowering drug or thing to any person is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.

      • Paul, you get less than “life” for spiking. Note how Section 176A differs from the aforementioned 176:

        176A Drink or food spiking (1) A person’s (the victim ‘s) drink or food is spiked if:
        (a) it contains an intoxicating substance that:

        (i) the victim does not expect it to contain; and (ii) a reasonable person in the victim’s position would not expect it to contain; or
        (b) it contains more of an intoxicating substance than:
        (i) the victim expects it to contain; and (ii) a reasonable person in the victim’s position would expect it to contain.

        (2) A person is guilty of an offence if the person: (a) spikes another’s drink or food; or (b) gives to another, or causes another to be given or to consume, spiked drink or food.

        Fault elements: (a) knowledge that the victim does not know that the drink or food is spiked or recklessness as to whether the victim knows.
        (b) an intention to do one or more of the following:

        (i) to impair the victim’s mental acuity and thus obtain an advantage from or over the victim; (ii) to cause embarrassment or humiliation; (iii) to cause harm (including unwanted intoxication).

        Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 2 years.

    • The CIA, were operating from Tavistock, London, in 1967,68, and could have been operating before and after, supplying and directing use of pure LSD, to innocent victims deemed by these agents as fare game.
      This came under the scheme of MKUltra, as far as I know no agent has ever been charged, those who had no comprehension as to the destruction of their life, such as the Pink Floyd, musician Syd Barrett, and many others who are not so notorious would become victims.
      Also MI5 would have been operating on similar lines, to me they are legalized criminals and are brain washed in so far as they think they are cool but are scum, operating under the delusion of power and corruption.

  2. john howard was able to declare Martin Bryant, the perp, before a trial, and sufferred no prosecution. Thats against the law. Thats not Impunity or Immunity though, thats just a coverup by a complicit government and opposition, law enforcement, the judiciary, and the media, and then the way I see it, they are all guilty of of facilitating howards flight from justice.

    I wouldve posted a link to gumshoe on this ladies youtube channel, but you tube have blocked access to my account Ive had for years, and now Id have to sign up again, handing over a lot more personal info than I had to previously.

    • Fair, I know you are egging me and that you will permit me to rebut your comment. (And do I know I’m right? No, I don’t, so Others, please come in.)

      You say:
      john howard was able to declare Martin Bryant the perp, before a trial, and sufferred no prosecution. That’s against the law.

      I don’t think it’s against the law. JH had no businesss saying a citizen of Tasmania was innocent or guilty — I wouldn’t even accuse Howard of obstruction of justice for opening his yap on that subject. My reaction is “Who cares what he said — let Justice William Cox of Tassie work it out;

      To quote John Cleese: “Howard, ite domum.”

      Fair, as to your complaint about your Youtube account, I have now heard from nearly every regular contributor to Gumshoe that they are experiencing the blues in some way from Google, Telstra, etc.

      I feel left out. Nobody is bothering me. Wah!

      • Oh shoot, Fair. The Bryant video you linked above led me to Youtube account of Brendan O’Connell of WA who says the pyramid on the ledge of the District Court Bldg in Perth is proof that the court is Masonic.

        He says we need the royal seal to be shown, instead, on the building “to give authority.” Oh for Pete’s sake, a seal does not give authority – WE GIVE AUTHORITY.

        What we need is the people of WA to see to the arrest of the political leaders and police and judiciary who are committing crimes against citizens. O’Connell’s vid shows a press conference at which a policeman says that a certain woman committed suicide by way of stabbing herself.

        You don’t need a law degree to recognize that this policemen is behaving criminally. GET HIM. Don’t even worry about getting the premier, the police commissioner, or (O’Connell’s main quarry) Bibi Netanyahu. Just haul that particular cop before a court.

        (Let’s see how my Google account goes now!)

          • Put both in handcuffs right now.

            It is as plain as the nose on your face that they are acting criminally.

            (Fair, I have jumped the gun on the coroner here. That is, I take it without checking that you know the coroner did say the same words as INSPECTOR DAVE BRYSON said.)

            And for the benefit of the tape, Bryson also said that this poor murdered woman had, moments before, killed her two daughters. FATHOM IT.

            And he got away with it. We impunitized him.

            We said “Oh, OK, we have developed the understanding that you cops are like that, you do these things, and so it is now our fate to just wait til you come and get OUR daughters, too. Kinda bad, but there’s not much we (24 million of us) can do. Ho hum.”

          • Mary, i dont know if the coroner said anything, before or after the cops statement. id expect most cops would leave such a thing to a coroner… going by the report on that page, it was as though the news was coming from the cop.

            “Police have deemed it most likely that the gruesome deaths of two young girls in Port Denison were at the hands of their mother, who also took her own life.”

            not sure id be able to find that info..
            anyway, im just venting.. i shouldnt use gumshoe as an outlet for my rage.. ill shush now 🙂

            we are an apathetic mob for sure.

          • Gumshoe welcomes your frustrations, Fair. And your rage.

            The Wi-fi cheapskate in me prevented me searching for a coronial report on that woman’s death. Yes, it sounds like the police made the decision. S-H-O-C-K-I-N-G.

            It must not be allowed to stand.
            MOST people do not embrace Orwellianism.

          • Fair, have another look at that Inspector Dave Bryson in the video’d press conference. Does he look happy to you? I think he looks miserable.

            Maybe his wife threatened to restrict his privileges if he went on telly with a porkie like that about the 2 daughters and all.

            Goodonya, Mrs Bryson!

      • No I wasnt egging you Mary, im just frustrated that the law — not so much can’t, but simply doesn’t punish the criminality.

        maybe him announcing Bryants guilt before a trial ( and even the media coverage ) wasnt actually perverting the course of justice, or anything else on the books, but if it isnt, it should be.

        i thought we all were entitled to a presumption of innocence, until we’d be found guilty, random breath tests show thats not the case anymore I guess, were all guilty and liable to a penalty until we prove otherwise.

        howard mustve felt invincible after getting away with PAM lies – he was subsequently able to tell fantastic lies about, but not limited to, human shredding machines and babies being thrown out of incubators, and take us all into another illegal immoral war where hundreds of thousands of innocent men women and children, who were never a threat to anyone, were murdered.. with the aid of our tax dollars, and more of our tax dollars go towards his generous pension.

        actually, im a little more than frustrated.

        im pretty sure william cox had it all worked out over 20 years ago too.. he probably chuckles a little to himself everytime his taxpayer funded pension is deposited into his account as well.

        as for you feeling left out. you must have some sort of immunity 🙂

        • Yes, Fair, i think they are immunizing me now, to use me for something later, tho i have no clue what.

          Fair, if Mr Smith in your neighborhood raped Miss Jones, and Ms Brown down the street said “No he did’t; he’s innocent,” she would (as far as i understand the law) not be perverting the course of justice. She would be just be yakking.

          That is how I feel about Howard. It is the States Rights Advocate in me. He has zero authority to take any action in the case. Did he lend the prestige of his office to the badmouthing of Bryant. Well, OK, I guess he did. But the judiciary of Tasmania and the ridiculous office known as DPP are the powers that put Bryant in prison.

          If you insist on blaming Howard for Bryant’s jailing, I suggest you blame hime via actions he took as PM that were intrinsically prime ministerial.

          Sorry again but I went off my Unlimited Data and into pre-paid wi-fi and i can see my limit is approaching. So I won’t say what the PM did wrong to Bryant but other readers pls fill it in.

          Isn’t it time we understood the various duties of office holders?

          • Sorry Mary, i do struggle to put my thoughts into words sometimes. Im not blaming howard for bryants gaoling, im suggessting he is complicit though. and in my unqualified laymans understanding, he was more than just yakking, as per when you talk of the prestige of his office. im sure hes guilty of a lot more regarding PAM, and I used a bad example perhaps.

            what im trying to say though, is that some ( like my example howard ) can act criminally, ( and i accept what youre saying about howard here in that he didnt ) and get away with it, through either incompetence, unwillingness, a general understanding of untouchableness..? or something else, even though they have no immunity or impunity, and we are all equal under the law, yet they are not prosecuted, regardless of the blatant obviousness of their crimes.??

            it was g. w. bushs prestige that allowed the world to accept OBL was guilty of the WTC attacks simply because the shrub pointed in osamas direction and said, “yeah, that’s him, man.” and the media went to town, without any other evidence, cementing that opinion. that was enough to go to war then, war that has since been called illegal and immoral by people with more qualifications than me, and it seems theres some now, that are looking back at his presidency with nostalgia.. and by all accounts he is a war criminal.

  3. Thanks Mary, for all of the great information.

    I think it’s one thing if a judge makes a “wrong” decision in a case, but is another entirely when a judge is a player in an obviously phony prosecution. In the first case, the judge could still have integrity, but in the second, that judge has no integrity and should be disbarred as well as prosecuted. In my opinion, judges are protected too much from natural consequences of their own behavior. The expression, “too big for their breeches,” comes to mind with regard to all of these characters who feel they have a right to be put on a pedestal above the rest of us. I’m reminded of that grandfatherly fellow from Uruguay who was elected president and gave away most of his salary and continued to live like an ordinary person while in office. This is much closer to the type of individuals who should be decision makers in government. Why people in the U.S. think it’s wise to elect the wealthiest people to high office, I’ll never know.

    It seems to me our governments are in a late stage of complete takeover by criminals masquerading as officials. However, no matter how close they are to a complete takeover, we the people still exist and we are NOT in agreement with their agenda! (Unfortunately, many of us don’t know that yet.) I still believe we will be successful in removing these outrageous conspirators, scoundrels, and thugs from their roles and somehow, sometime in the near future will stop allowing them to violate the law with impunity.

    I hope this makes sense. It’s getting late where I live.

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