In the Media

Terror-trial reporting bans to be reviewed

PUBLISHED December 5, 2006

The Lord Chancellor has expressed concern about long delays in terror prosecutions hindering media coverage and has called for reporting restrictions to be lifted where possible.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton said that he was "very, very keen" for the public to know what was going on in such trials so that they could see how the war against terrorism was being waged. He was concerned about delays in cases coming to court, which can mean prosecutions are under wraps for up to 18 months.

Ministers, he confirmed, are conducting a review of the imposition of reporting restrictions on trials, which can mean some cases are not reported for several months.

He told The Times: "I have been very, very keen for the public to be as aware as possible of prosecutions and the basis of those prosecutions. The more the public know that the criminal justice is operating in that way and the basis on which people can be convicted, the more confidence they will have in what the state is doing to fight terrorism."

Judges, he added, had to strike a balance - as in the recent Barot case - and had to recognise the "countervailing strong public interest in knowing the details of prosecutions."

Earlier this month the media were able to report the case of Dhiren Barot who was jailed for 40 years after admitting conspiracy to murder. The Al-Qaeda plotter planned to kill thousands of people in the UK through a "memorable black day" of terror.

At present, long delays in the conclusion of cases and the imposition of reporting restrictions - because some trials are linked to further prosecutions - effectively puts a blanket prohibition on a series of trials involving terrorist suspects.

Lord Falconer acknowledged that delays exacerbated the problem. "I am worried that there is very often a long delay between an arrest and the conclusion of a prosecution."

Recently the Government?s senior law officer, Lord Goldsmith, QC, the Attorney-General, said that he was also concerned about the current reporting restrictions in terrorism trials.

Lord Falconer also said that ministers were actively considering what further steps to take to ensure that the criminal justice system had adequate facilities to cope with terrorist trials, including enough secure courts and appropriate prison facilities.

There are currently 34 pending terror trials involving 99 defendants. Lord Falconer said the existing courts system could cope in that they could be handled by existing courts and judges without any delay being caused by lack of resources.

But he gave warning that if the numbers of terrorist suspects awaiting trial went up - "and that may very well happen", then "we have to be sure we are ready for that."

"We need to make sure we have enough secure courts, enough prison facilities to detain the terrorist defendants in circumstances where they can be near where they will be tried."

The review would identify the precise numbers that might be needed, he said.