Thursday 19 May 2022

And you are not entitled to this information either

There is a case before the Supreme Court of our capital territory which should be of concern to all of us. I won't go into the details. Put simply a solicitor is asking for a great many government agency documents of a highly sensitive nature so as to contest the legality of an alleged spy operation. He is asking for them so as to defend himself against certain alleged illegal acts. 

He is claiming he is entitled to contest the legality of those acts, that there are legal limits on the way the our national security agency operates,  on our foreign relations and national economic "well- being"

His application has been refused. One ground for this has been that it is unnecessary for the government to prove the legality of the actions of their agents beyond a reasonable doubt in order to prosecute the person in question. It is all very complicated and, even though I had to study some criminal law and evidence at law school I am sure that I would get lost in the finer details and arguments being presented to the court. It may well be that more matters relating to this case will end up in the High Court - at least some matters have already gone there. Very little of what is going on in the Supreme Court has been made public - and with good reason.

I don't envy the judge presiding over the case. It will be full of all sorts of such matters.

The case was brought to my attention again yesterday. Someone I know sent me a link to some information about it - information in the public domain - and asked me what I thought about it. Should this person be permitted to let the public know if he thought an illegal act had occurred?

In the course of my work I have had to sign many documents which have prevented, and still prevent, me from saying anything about the matters I have been involved in. There have been times when I have thought, "How absolutely ridiculous not being able to talk about that" or "Why on earth don't they want people to know about that?" At the same time I have kept my mouth firmly shut. I have never been asked to do anything illegal or harmful - just the opposite. I am however conscious that there are people who risk their lives to minimise potential harm to others.

"Spying" is not any sort of James Bond scenario. It never was. It is even less likely now. It was,and still is, intelligence gathering - finding out what other people plan to do and how they plan to do it. When necessary plans might then be put in place to alter something or even sabotage something. Yes, of course it is done for the benefit of those doing the spying but it can also be done for the benefit of others as well - often ordinary citizens. It means catching the bombers before the bomb goes off, the shooter before s/he shoots. 

It also means recruiting people to tell  you these things, sometimes without realising they are doing it. It means taking risks and going in to situations where, if caught, there  is not going to be much anyone else can do to help. 

Some years ago a critical water supply in a remote place was at risk. This was discovered because someone else was somewhere he had no right to be at a time he said he was somewhere else. People went in to secure the site. One of them was caught - and lost his life. Nobody has ever been charged with his murder. It won't happen.  This is the nature of "spy work" and its consequences. Do we charge the informant - who saved the water supply and thus the lives of many people - for what amounts to trespass and the death of another man? 

The work of our "spies" may not be as straightforward as people would like.

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