MI5 officers are now appearing in court almost as matter of course, if sometimes behind screens. The courts are becoming less and less impressed by the claims of secrecy. What criteria are judges applying in striking a balance between the competing needs of security and disclosure? Where will it all end? Isn’t some of statement of principles needed?
Lady Justice Hallett, the judge sitting as a corner at the victims’ inquest, rejected an attempt by lawyers for MI5 to hold closed session to hear top secret evidence considered too sensitive to be aired in public.
They wanted her to review highly sensitive intercept evidence which can not even be shown to the legal teams but which they said would potentially exonerate officers of failing to seize opportunities to prevent the atrocity.
But the judge ruled that the families have an “unqualified right” to access to all the evidence which influences her verdicts and insisted that it could be heard without putting national security at risk.
The decision opens the way for dramatic new evidence about what was known about the bombers before the attacks to be scrutinised in public for the first time.
But where is the line to be drawn? This after the McCaugherty sting operation and conviction.
The spy, codenamed “Amir” is claiming that the security service committed a breach of trust and failed in its duty of care after he was summoned to give evidence at a trial in Northern Ireland earlier this year.
One source told The Sunday Telegraph that Amir had risked his life to bring suspected terrorists to trial but had been treated in a “very shoddy” manner by MI5.
He said: “People are alive today because of the risk Amir has taken. The nation owes him a debt of gratitude. Agents like Amir are never meant to end up in court giving evidence.
“His cover is now blown and he will never be able to work again as an undercover agent.”
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London