- Our Town
UK court says terror trial can be partly secret
By Jill Lawless, The Associated Press
LONDON - Britain's appeals court ruled Thursday that a criminal trial can be held largely in secret on national security grounds — a decision some say sets a dangerous precedent.
Three judges said that the case of two terrorism suspects was "exceptional," and that the core of the trial should be heard without the public present in court. Under the ruling, a small number of journalists will be allowed to attend most of the proceedings, but cannot report on the trial as it unfolds.
Prosecutors sought the secret trial on security grounds, saying they would have to abandon the case if it could not be held in private and with the defendants anonymized.
While portions of trials have previously been held without press or public present, lawyers said the bid for an entire secret criminal trial was unprecedented in an English court.
That move was challenged by media organizations, who claimed a partial victory in the case Thursday. The decision is final, and the trial is due to start Monday.
Lord Justice Peter Gross, one of the judges, said that open justice was "a fundamental principle of our common law," but that a departure from open justice was justified in some circumstances.
He said exceptions to open justice must be "necessary and proportionate."
The judges expressed "grave concern as to the cumulative effects" of both a secret trial and anonymous defendants, and ordered that the names of the suspects be released.
The defendants, previously named as AB and CD, were then identified as Erol Incedal and Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar. Incedal is charged with preparing an act of terrorism, and Rarmoul-Bouhadjar with other terrorism offences. Details of their alleged crimes have not been made public.
The judges agreed that there was a risk that "the administration of justice would be frustrated if the trial were to be held in open court."
The judges said the "core" of part of the trial should be private but some sections would be held in public, including the jury swearing-in, the reading of the charges and the verdicts.