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January 27, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 10:58am

Government court bid to gag BBC over ‘spy’ story to be heard in public unless ‘strictly necessary’

By PA Media and Press Gazette

A High Court bid by the Government to prevent the BBC from broadcasting a story which would reportedly identify a spy is due to be heard in March.

The Telegraph last week revealed that Attorney General Suella Braverman is seeking an injunction to stop the broadcaster from airing a programme which would allegedly identify an intelligence operative working overseas.

At a hearing in London on Wednesday, lawyers said the case involves “matters relating to national security”, but few details were disclosed in court.

Oliver Sanders QC, for the Attorney General, told the High Court: “This is a breach of confidence case where there is a dispute between the parties as to whether certain information can be published.”

He said the Attorney General’s case is that it “cannot and must not be published”, while the BBC says it is “in the public interest” for the information to be reported.

Members of the press and public were excluded from the hearing while certain matters were discussed, after Sanders said he would be unable to address the court without disclosing information the Attorney General says is confidential.

Mr Justice Chamberlain said he was satisfied part of the hearing should be in private, but that it should only remain behind closed doors for the “minimum possible time”.

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He said further hearings in the case will be heard in public unless sitting in private is “strictly necessary and compellingly justified”.

The judge made a series of directions in the case, including that the Attorney General’s application for an interim injunction should be heard on 1 and 2 March.

He also said certain documents in the case, which were previously restricted, could be made available to the press and public.

They reveal few details but show the Attorney General is bringing the case for a breach of confidence or false confidence and that she believes publication “irrespective” of whether the details are true or not would “create a real and immediate risk to life” and “damage the public interest and national security”.

The Attorney General is expected to ask the court to hear part of the case in secret under a “closed material procedure”, which is often used in cases involving matters of national security and for which a special advocate will have to be appointed to represent the BBC.

The BBC previously said in a statement: “The Attorney General has issued proceedings against the BBC with a view to obtaining an injunction to prevent publication of a proposed BBC news story.

“We are unable to comment further at this stage, beyond confirming that we would not pursue any story unless it was felt it was overwhelmingly in the public interest to do so and fully in line with the BBC’s editorial standards and values.”

The Attorney General’s Office said: “The Attorney General has made an application against the BBC.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further while proceedings are ongoing.”

Picture: Reuters/Peter Nicholls

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