CPS appeals for Shayler's trial to be held in secret

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The Independent Online

The Crown Prosecution Service applied yesterday for all or part of the trial of the former MI5 officer David Shayler to be held behind closed doors.

The Crown Prosecution Service applied yesterday for all or part of the trial of the former MI5 officer David Shayler to be held behind closed doors.

An application by the CPS was posted yesterday afternoon in the Old Bailey in London, where Mr Shayler is due to appear for a preliminary hearing on 2 November. It gives notice that the prosecution may apply to the judge for any part of the preliminary hearing or trial to be held in camera "for reasons of national security", under terms of the Official Secrets Act.

The application was immediately condemned by Mr Shayler and his solicitor, John Wadham, who is also the director of the human rights group Liberty. Mr Shayler said: "Open justice is a fundamental part of any civilised society, but this government is trying to gag the press. Open justice is supposed to be bred in the bone of our common law, and trial by our peers in the open a central tenet of the criminal justice system."

Mr Wadham said: "One of the fundamental principles of our criminal justice system is openness. This case is all about freedom of speech and to gag the press from reporting is wrong in principle. There may be parts of the trial itself that need to be held in secret but not the preliminary hearings and not the whole of the trial."

Mr Shayler, 34, faces three charges under the Official Secrets Act of disclosing secret documents and information in relation to an article in The Mail on Sunday in August 1997.

Mr Shayler fled to France before the article was published but he returned voluntarily in August. The article said that security chiefs at MI5, where Mr Shayler previously worked, had kept files on prominent Labour politicians.

A spokeswoman for the CPS said the application was not "usual" but could happen in the interests of national security.