There are terrorism-related trials with secret testimony and secret evidence, but an upcoming trial in Britain goes beyond all that. It’s so secret that little is known about the case — except that it involves terrorism.
NPR’s Ari Shapiro is reporting on the trial, which starts June 16, for our Newscast unit. Here’s his report:
“The trial involves two men. Their names are being kept secret. So are their alleged offenses. The only reason we know that a trial is happening at all is that British news organizations protested the secrecy surrounding the trial.
“A jury will hear the case, but no details will be released. Prosecutors argue that national security concerns warrant this level of total secrecy.
“They say the prosecution might not go forward if the trial were held in public.
“Lawyers challenging the decision call this ‘an unprecedented departure from the principles of open justice.’ Prosecutors acknowledge that this is an exceptional situation. They say it is justified by the circumstances of the case, which they are not at liberty to reveal.”
Criminal cases are heard in open court, and British law often places reporting restrictions on some aspects of cases. But this is the first time a trial has been held entirely in secret, The Daily Mail reports. And, the newspaper says, the power to hold a trial in secret comes from British common law — not from the country’s anti-terrorism legislation.
The Mail, which reported on the story on its front page, called the trial a “casting aside of the centuries-old doctrine of open courts.”
The trial involves two men identified only as AB and CD. AB, The Mail reports, is accused of “engaging in conduct in preparation for terrorist acts.”
Here’s more from the paper:
“Both men are accused of possessing terrorist documents, including a file named ‘bomb making’ held on a memory stick. CD faces a fourth charge under immigration laws of improperly obtaining a British passport.
“Senior prosecutors claim the trial may not go ahead if it has to be held in public.
“But they have refused to disclose publicly the need for total secrecy.”