When are criminal trials held in secret?

Criminal trials in this country have been open to the public and media for hundreds of years. However, recently, the case of Guardian News And Media Ltd and AB & CD has gone to the Court of Appeal for judges to decide if two men, charged with terrorism offences, can be tried in secret. The case only came to light when the Court of Appeal lifted restrictions that prevented the media from even reporting on the case.

Generally all criminal trials are open to the public and the media, who can go to court and observe cases should they so wish. There are restrictions on certain cases, such as those involving children or sexual offences, preventing names been published in the media that could lead to the identification of those involved. Where there are cases of particular sensitivity, for example where issues surrounding national security could be raised, it is possible for parts of the trial to be held ‘in camera’ that is closed to the public and press. What is unusual in the case of AB & CD, is that it was proposed that the whole trial take place in secret, with the media unable to report it was even taking place

The Court of Appeal has now reached a decision in the case of AB & CD. The decision reiterates the principles of open justice, but states that where concerns over national security would mean a prosecution could not take place if proceedings were open to the public, a departure from this may be justified. The decision to hold a trial in secret must be one for the court itself to make, but particular consideration will be given to concerns raised by Government Ministers. In this particular case the court held that it was only necessary for the core part of the trial, where evidence is heard, to be held in secret and that it was not necessary for the defendants to be anonymous. The court will also allow certain selected members of media to attend the trial although their notes will be kept at court. The court said that it had grave concerns about future trials being held entirely in secret and defendants being kept anonymous.

If you require legal advice regarding criminal proceedings, Emery Johnson Astills can help, from the Police Station through to trial. We have extensive experience across all aspects of criminal law, including terrorism offences. Call Emery Johnson Astills on 0116 255 4855 of you need advice.