New Times,
New Thinking.

14 May 2007

An Outrageous Judgement

A recent official secrets trial is a danger to the freedom of the press

By Martin Bright

The trial of civil servant David Keogh and parliamentary researcher Leo O’Connor for breaching the Official Secrets Act has gone largely unnoticed.

This is partly because the pair decided — wrongly in my opinion — not to allow a campaign to gather around their case. But it has also been difficult for journalists to report the case because of the draconian reporting restrictions that surround it.

Normally, a judge’s orders under the Contempt Act are made to ensure a fair trial. But in this case they have been extended indefinitely. This means that journalists are unable to report the nature of the leak by the two men in the context of the case, even though this has been reported in the past.

However, in a bizarre twist, the judge has stated that the contents of the leak — which is thought to involve a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush — can be reported as long as they are not linked to the case and appear on a separate page of the newspaper involved.

More worrying is the extention of the contempt order to comments made by Mr Keogh in open court (at approxiamately 11.45am on 30 April 2007) attempting to justify the disclosures.

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The decision is currently being appealed by The Guardian, The Times and the BBC. Index on Censorship and the New Statesman also back the appeal.

The conditions of this order should be unacceptable to any journalist who cares about the freedom of the press in this country. It is my belief that, should the appeal fail, senior journalists associated with the case should combine to breach the order as an act of civil disobedience.

The judge in the case, Mr Justice Aikens, made no reference to the internet. But we have to be careful here. All I can say is that I would always encourage readers of this blog to read all the postings.

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