|Calls for secret Shayler trial
London Evening Standard 10/07/02: Patrick McGowan
Original Link: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/articles/1488303
The Government has been accused by lawyers of trying to interfere in the trial of former MI5 officer David Shayler by insisting that part of the proceedings are held in private.
Ministers are demanding that trial judge Mr Justice Alan Moses agree in advance that the case go into private session without saying why and without hearing arguments to the contrary from the defence.
Shayler's trial, on charges under the Official Secrets Act, was beginning at the Old Bailey today. He is being prosecuted following newspaper interviews he gave five years ago and the trial is expected to last for at least four weeks.
On Friday Home Secretary David Blunkett and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw signed identical public interest immunity certificates under which the press and the public will have to leave court if sensitive security issues are raised.
The certificates do not specify what information they are trying to keep secret on the grounds that to do so would cause the very damage the Government is seeking to avoid.
They claim: "Publication of information of the kinds referred to would be likely to assist those whose purpose it is to injure the security of the United Kingdom and whose actions in the past show that they are willing to kill innocent civilians, both inside and outside the UK, in pursuance of their aims."
Mr Blunkett and Mr Straw also claim present and future intelligence operations would be compromised.
PII certificates signed by Conservative ministers were controversially used during the arms-to-Iraq trials in the Nineties.
Normally the judge in a trial would read documents in the case and, after hearing arguments from both sides, decide whether they should be disclosed. Now he is being asked to make his decision in advance.
Shayler, 36, faces three charges. They allege he disclosed information, disclosed information obtained by interception of communications and
disclosed documents. The Crown Prosecution Service has already given notice that it will apply for some parts of the trial to be held in camera. This will apply to evidence on "sensitive operational techniques of the Security and Intelligence Services".
It is expected that the court will also be asked to keep the identities of MI5 agents secret and allow them to give evidence from behind screens.
Today Geoffrey Robertson QC, representing civil rights group Liberty, will oppose the Government's move. Michael Tugendhat QC, appearing for various national newspapers, is expected to argue that the Government has provided no evidence that national security will be threatened by the trial and will underline the importance of open justice.
During the arms-to-Iraq cases Mr Justice Moses was prosecuting counsel and Mr Robertson was counsel for the defence when three directors of the machine tool company Matrix Churchill were accused of selling equipment to the Iraqi regime.
Shayler will be defending himself during the trial. He is expected to claim that British secret service agents paid up to £100,000 to al Qaeda terrorists for an assassination attempt on Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffy in 1996. He is seeking permission to plead a defence of "necessity" - that he acted for the greater good by revealing wrongdoing by the security service.
Although much of the trial may end up being held in camera, the arguments about which parts should be kept secret will be held in public. Only after they are concluded is the jury expected to be sworn in so the trial proper can begin.