Hearings used to challenge judge in Nadir case: Newspaper quotes directly from exchanges made behind closed doors at

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A DEFIANT challenge to the authority of Mr Justice Tucker, the judge in the Asil Nadir case, and Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, was delivered yesterday when a newspaper quoted directly from two Old Bailey hearings at which all reporting was forbidden. The hearings quoted by the Sunday Times, on 6 November and 8 March, dealt with allegations of a conspiracy to bribe the judge and pervert the course of justice.

Although Michael Mates, the former Northern Ireland minister, mentioned the substance of the allegations in his controversial ministerial resignation speech to the Commons on 29 June, he was protected from contempt of court proceedings by parliamentary privilege.

A senior legal source told the Independent last night that such matters could not be discussed publicly, because of the continuing police investigation into the allegations, reporting restrictions imposed by the court, and the fact that some of the hearings had been held in camera. That was why the Attorney General had deleted all references to the substance of the allegations from his exchange of correspondence and information with Mr Mates - even though he had gone out of his way to cover that dossier with parliamentary privilege.

Nevertheless, the Mates statement has opened up a veritable barrage of leak and counter-leak surrounding the Nadir case, which could seriously jeopardise any chance of the fugitive getting a fair trial if he did return to Britain from northern Cyprus. So far, there has been no suggestion of contempt proceedings, but yesterday the Sunday Times quoted from an internal Serious Fraud Office report on the alleged plot to bribe Mr Justice Tucker, sent to Lord Chief Justice Taylor and the Attorney General on 5 November.

According to Mr Mates's Commons statement, counsel for the SFO told the court the next day 'that the police were investigating a complaint that there was a conspiracy to bribe Mr Justice Tucker, the trial judge, and that he should consider standing down because it might be necessary to interview him'. Yesterday's Sunday Times purported to quote from what it called that 'behind-closed-doors hearing' - specifically covered by a blanket reporting direction from Mr Justice Tucker under Section 4 (2) of the Contempt of Court Act.

The Sunday Times purportedly quoted an even longer section of exchanges from a hearing of legal submissions with the court in judge's chambers - a hearing in camera - on 8 March. Again according to Mr Mates, that was the hearing at which 'another bizarre suggestion was made by counsel, namely that the police were investigating a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice'; a conspiracy in which the judge and Anthony Scrivener QC, counsel for Nadir and former chairman of the Bar Council, were alleged participants.

Mr Scrivener explained on Friday that the allegation was that the judge had accepted a bribe. However, Sir Nicholas said last week that a 10- month police investigation 'had not produced any credible evidence' to implicate the judge or counsel.

It is possible, therefore, that the reporting ban on the March hearing could be regarded as 'spent' - although that would not apply to the November hearing, because police inquiries continue into the original allegation.

Letter, page 19