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Official Secrets: Mishcon acts for client seeking to introduce a public interest defence

Posted on 6 January 2021

Mishcon de Reya is advising a client, Janus Friis, in relation to proposals to introduce a general public interest defence to the Official Secrets Acts (and any replacement Espionage Act). The motivation behind the proposals is to afford legal protection to whistle-blowers disclosing official secrets in the public interest. 

James Libson, Ben Brandon, Katy Colton and Matthew Ewens of Mishcon, together with Alex Bailin QC and Jessica Jones from Matrix Chambers, have prepared a legal briefing paper, exploring the evolution of the law relating to Official Secrets; case-law which suggests that a public interest defence is required; and a comparative analysis of legislation on official secrets in the Five Eyes jurisdictions. The briefing note comments that Official Secrets legislation dates back to the First World War and the Cold War – but since then, society's expectations have moved on considerably, with freedom of information now widely accepted as a basic tenet of any accountable democracy. By criminalising disclosures in the public interest, the legal note suggests that it is difficult to see how our current law is consistent with obligations to prevent torture or other unlawful behaviour occurring anywhere in the world. In this context, the briefing paper proposes wording for a draft defence to be included in proposed legislation.

Following on from the briefing paper, and together with the communications consultancy Powerscourt, the legal team is advising the client on public affairs and has submitted evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The briefing paper was also recently featured in an article on page two of The Telegraph.

The briefing paper can be accessed here and the article in The Telegraph can be accessed here.

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