In the Media

Lawyers may seek gagging order for July 21 plot trial

PUBLISHED July 21, 2006

A GAGGING order may be imposed to prevent media coverage of the trial of four men accused of attempting to carry out suicide bomb attacks in London a year ago today.

Defence lawyers for the alleged July 21 bombers are expected to apply for stringent reporting restrictions when the case next comes before the Old Bailey in October. 
They are also likely to seek an adjournment of the trial of Muktar Said Ibrahim, 27, Ramzi Mohammad, 23, Yassin Omar, 24, and Hussain Osman, 27. If the applications are successful the full story of the events of July 21, when explosive devices failed to detonate on three Tube trains and a bus, will not be told until late next year. Another terrorism trial due to begin at Woolwich Crown Court in the autumn has already been made the subject of a wideranging order.

Delays and secrecy surrounding terrorism trials are prompting concerns about the way in which the criminal justice system handles such cases. More than 60 suspected terrorists are in British jails awaiting trial and most face long periods of detention on remand before their cases come to court.

Most have specialist lawyers who have successfully argued for adjournments, and have extended trials by several months. As a result the legal aid bill is soaring and the courts face the task of finding juries to sit on lengthy cases. Similar difficulties have already hampered a number of fraud cases.

Counter-terrorist agencies believe that administrative delays, gagging orders and the sub judice rule, which bans pre-trial reporting, mean that the country is ill-informed about the terrorist threat.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the head of the Scotland Yard Anti-Terrorist branch, highlighted concerns about the justice system this year. Mr Clarke said: ?Much of the debate and comment about counter-terrorism in the UK has been either skewed or lacking in important detail because of the length of time it is taking cases to reach the point of trial. It is obviously vital that all parties should have time to prepare thoroughly for these important cases, and nothing must be said or done which might prejudice the ability of a defendant to receive a fair trial. But there has nevertheless been a price to pay. And that price, put simply, is that the British public have not been able to make fully informed judgments.?

Last week the Home Affairs Select Committee criticised some defence lawyers in terrorism cases. It questioned the activities of one unnamed small firm of solicitors representing large numbers of defendants.

The MPs? report said: ?We doubt whether those suspects were represented to the highest legal standards: this of course raises questions of whether justice has been properly served.?

Mr Ibrahim, Mr Mohammad, Mr Omar, Mr Osman and a fifth man, Manfo Asiedu, 32, all from London, deny charges of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions likely to endanger life. Another man, Adel Yahya, 23, is charged with conspiracy to cause explosions.

Mr Osman, Mr Omar and Mr Mohammad have denied attempting to murder passengers on the Transport for London system. Mr Ibrahim denies the attempted murder of passengers on a London bus.