Serjeant at arms

The fantastic Carole Cadwalladr has another scoop in the ongoing efforts around the world to hold Facebook accountable for its actions. It details efforts by the UK Parliament to get hold of internal Facebook documents in light of the continuing refusal of Mark Zuckerberg to answer its questions. These documents, which were originally obtained by a company during legal discovery in its court case in California against Facebook were, presumably, physically (or digitally) present with the company founder when he was on a business trip to London.

Damian Collins, the chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism to compel the founder of a US software company, Six4Three, to hand over the documents during a business trip to London. In another exceptional move, parliament sent a serjeant at arms to his hotel with a final warning and a two-hour deadline to comply with its order. When the software firm founder failed to do so, it’s understood he was escorted to parliament. He was told he risked fines and even imprisonment if he didn’t hand over the documents.

This has all the ingredients of a blockbuster international legal thriller, with the additional spice of a walk-on part by a man in tights with a sword. Well, maybe.

The use of the indefinite article – a serjeant at arms – rather clouds the possibility of this note of colour. The UK Parliament website uses a definite article – the Serjeant at Arms – and the description of the role implies there’s only one of them. He wears, it says, a traditional uniform (that would include the tights) and a sword.

Picture from Politics Home

However when he’s not around his place is taken by a deputy Serjeant and there’s a whole Serjeant at Arms directorate which is part of the In-House Services Team.

Personally I love the idea of Kamal El-Hajji striding through London in his duds and regalia with all the dignity of his six-century-old office to pry out the evidence at the point of his sword. Sadly for the film version of The Fall of Facebook this seems unlikely to have happened. Although, come to think of it, when did accuracy ever get in the way of, well, almost anything.


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