7/7 ruling sets wider disclosure limits for MI5. What’s left of secrecy?

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.”

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  • Johnny Boy

    The Judiciary are in danger of forcing government agencies to effectively “bring a knife to a gunfight” in thier actions against terrorists and\or organised crime.

  • joeCanuck

    I don’t think this will result in MI5 being forthcoming. They simply will slip away into the shadows and if crusading judges try to drag them out, the Government will undoubtedly pass legislation.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I think its part of the ongoing changing relationship between those who govern and those governed in Britain.
    The notion that some people are above the law.
    The concept of a “subject” and a “citizen”.
    In a way its related to being part of Europe.
    A “subject” is prima facie subject to the law.
    A “citizen” enjoys more rights.
    Or at least thats the theory.

    Fift years ago Ted Willis could produced the model cop in George Dixon. Ian Fleming produced the model spy in James Bond.
    Audiences were uncritical. As was the population in real life scenarios.
    Mr Walkers former olleague Mark Urban (himself of course a British Territorial officer) produced arguably the best book on the Troubles “Big Boys Rules” which I always get the impression he wrote (no doubt with approval) from a frustrated sense that the public needed to wake up and not expect derring do heroism but rather more pragmatic stuff that would never make the movie screen.
    Likewise a succession of 1980s thrillers showed the British security agencies in a bad light. “A Very British Coup” for example.
    The public is less inclined to believe that the security agencies are benign. Revelations from Fred Holroyd dont help them.

    The drama “Spooks” attempts to redress the balance but the culture that security agencies are less than benign and police not exactly Dixon of Dock Green (miners strike, Blair Peach, Stockwell Tube) ….is so deep that people are less inclined to take their statements at face value.

    When Brian Faulkner tetchily announced in August 1971 “we are British….we dont do that sort of thing” in reply to a question about torture allegations, he was readily believed in England.
    Allegations of a similar nature now about a new terror war are scrutinised ….the default position forty years later is not to believe….
    Its basically “big boys rules”. The public accept the logic of what Mr Urban says. You cant fight terrorism with one hand tied behind backs. Big Boys Rules….but that doesnt mean that Society likes it.
    Theres a fault line here.
    And “Lord” Justice Hallet has put himself on one side of the fault line. Perhaps its an apalling vista. But “Lord” Denning put himself on the other side of that fault line nearly four decades ago.