The Home Secretary is asking a court due to try a man accused of murdering a multi-millionaire author to hold parts of the trial in secret.
Jacqui Smith has signed a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate to have some or even all of the trial over the death of Allan Chappelow held in private.
Prosecutors have posted a short notice at the Old Bailey, in London, indicating they have applied for preliminary proceedings next month to be held in camera.
PII certificates can be used when it is believed documents or evidence in a trial could harm the “public interest” if disclosed.
They are often invoked when the trial covers matters linked to the security services, the military or police informants.
Frances Gibb, legal editor of The Times, reported in the newspaper on Thursday that the Home Secretary wanted the trial to be held in secret because the defendant might have links with British Intelligence.
“The highly unusual move is thought to be the first where such a “gagging order” has been sought in a murder trial,” she wrote.
Mr Chappelow, 86, was found dead at his shabby villa home in exclusive Hampstead, north west London, in June last year.
A post mortem examination showed that the author, who wrote books on the playwright George Bernard Shaw, had died of head injuries.
Financial trader Wang Yam, 45, faces charges of murder, burglary and fraud linked to the transfer of funds from Mr Chappelow’s bank account.
A hearing will be held at the Old Bailey on January 14 at which the gagging order application can be challenged.
PII certificates formed a central role in the failed 1992 Matrix Churchill case in which a British company was accused of illegally exporting machine tools to Iraq.
The judge partially quashed a number of certificates designed to suppress information about intelligence sources. The Scott Inquiry later examined the use of the certificates.
There has also been controversy over claims the prosecution considered applying for a certificate during the trial of royal butler Paul Burrell for theft.
A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesman refused to confirm or deny that a PII certificate was being applied for in the case about the murder of Mr Chappelow.
He said: “The prosecution has already given notice that it intends to apply for an order in the case that part of the preliminary proceedings and the trial will heard in camera.
“The order is in order to ensure the due administration of justice. It will be published again at the Central Criminal Court at the beginning of next year.”
The Home Office said any application was a CPS matter.