Tuesday, October 10, 2006

al-Jazeera memo

The Pre-Trial hearing of the Keogh and O'Connor, charged under the Official Secrets Act of passing information relating the conversation between Bush and Blair that reported discussed the al-Jazeera. There has been some confusion of what took place in Monday as we had assumed this was the full trial starting - the trial will now apparently start on the 18th April. (see The Guardian)

In his published ruling, Old Bailey judge Mr Justice Aikens accepted the government's case that disclosing the contents of the memo would have a "detrimental impact" on "diplomatic and political relations" between the UK and the US. This in turn would have "serious consequences" for "the national safety or national security of the United Kingdom in the current international situation

My FOI request for the memo: my complaint reached the ICO a few months ago, but I have not yet had a case worker assigned. I also have a request under internal review at the US State Dept (they claim they don't hold any records). Staff at al-jazeera first picked up on my request on their "don't bomb" blog.

The Official Secrets Act states: S11(4) Section 8(4) of the [1920 c. 75.] "Official Secrets Act 1920 (exclusion of public from hearing on grounds of national safety) shall have effect as if references to offences under that Act included references to offences under any provision of this Act other than section 8(1), (4) or (5).". A certficate would have to be issued giving reasons.

Similar applications were made by the Government for parts of the David Shayler trial under the Official Secrets Act to be held in camera. (Two were issued one in 2000, the other in 2002). The context was obviously different given Shayler's background as an ex agent - there was a much greater risk of new senstive information coming to light given his extensive inside knowledge and nature of the witnesses involved. Shayler attempted to resist this, as did the press. In this case the detailed evidence supporting the certficate was seen as too damaging, so this was given to the court as a "sensitive schedule". The certficates were accepted by the judge for parts of the trial.

The Guardian carries a comment from Mark Stephens, the lawyer acting on on behalf of al-Jazeera, persuing their FOI request for the memo (similar to mine). It is likely that as with the Iraq/legal advice these similar complaints will dealt with as one cluster by the ICO.

SeeBBC coverage

Also see: Blairwatch

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