28 January 2008

BBC2 Newsnight article about secret trials 28 January

I was interested in the article about secret trials run by BBC2's Newsnight programme about 3 hours ago. This is important to me because I suffered from the effects of a secret trial myself. Below is the short summary on the BBC website:

Secret trials
Author Allan Chappelow was murdered just over a year ago - found dead in his own home underneath copies of one his own books about George Bernard Shaw. This week a man will stand trial for his murder. But much of the evidence will be held in secret for issues of national security. It is a very unusual thing to happen - and a very odd case too - we'll debate whether it is ever right for trials to be held in secret in this way.

I felt I should add to the debate, and so I submitted the comment below. I expect there will be a delay before this appears on the BBC blog page.

Secret trials are nothing new. Daniel James will be facing one at the Old Bailey next week, and about half of my own trial in 1993 was also held in secret, for reasons of "national security".

The excuses given for holding a trial "in camera" are usually an indication that there is something wrong with the evidence, rather than there being any real danger to national security. I know this from personal experience, because in my own trial for espionage a key document, marked "restricted", was claimed to have been used on the ALARM missile, and it ultimately led to the jury convicting me.

If this part of the evidence had been held publicly that verdict would never have arisen. I only discovered in October 2007 that the document used to convict me had been falsely described. The document was in fact made obsolete in 1984, 9 years before my trial, and later versions of it had been declassified and marked "unclassified". The Prosecution realised that they would have lost the case based on the truth, and so they had to use an "in camera" trial to hide the fact that the document was never used on any ALARM missile.

It is the worst aspects of human nature that drives the legal system to deceive the public - because nobody wants to lose a legal case - but it is the use of secret trials that enable such abuses to happen. For the reasons given above, I am very much opposed to any evidence being presented in a secret court.