Doors closed on open justice - Court of Appeal upholds gag on murder trial

The Court of Appeal has this week upheld an order that allows a significant proportion of a defendant's testimony to be held in secret. As previously reported on Mediabeak the case concerns the murder of a wealthy author, Allan Chappelow who died from head injuries following a burglary at his Hampstead home in June 2006.

The defendant and the media had petitioned the Home Secretary to allow the case to be heard in open court rather than behind closed doors. The state had successfully secured a gag over proceedings on the basis of national security. At the heart of the case lies the, as yet, and in light of the gag probably never, substantiated allegaton that the death of Chappelow may have had some connection with the securtiy services. The Court of Appeal has upheld the original order granted by Mr Justice Ouseley - insofar as the judge had 'correctly applied the relevant law to the facts before him' - which is legalspeak for the judge followed the letter of the law as far as it could be construed towards the state - i.e. played it safe.

This decision is a shame given that it was not just the media but the defendant who was keen to have full public exposure and discussion of the truth. It is another example of how 'national security' can be used to trump the truth even in the wake of the Human Rights Act. To add to gravitas, Mr Justice Ouseley's original order also cautioned journslists that speculation about the case could amont to contempt - so no pressure there! - Mediabeak would like to stress that this report does not speculate in any way about the case or its merits, it merely questions the right to obtain more information to prevent such speculation.


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