Lyell to contest High Court spy ruling

The Attorney General Sir Nicholas Lyell is not one to take defeat in the High Court lying down.

Lyell is appealing a decision to turn down his bid to recover £90,000 which Soviet spy George Blake is said to have made from a book published about his years with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS).

In April this year, Vice Chancellor Sir Richard Scott ruled that Blake, who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison, London, in 1966, could have the money, being held by London publishers Jonathan Cape.

It is his findings over the confidence obligations of ex-security personnel which are now expected to come under the scrutiny of the appeal judges.

In his ruling the Vice Chancellor said the Crown's insistence on a lifelong duty of fidelity for security service members interfered with the rights of free expression.

Philip Havers QC, representing the Attorney General, told the judge that Blake had broken his trust with the SIS by writing No Other Choice, which discussed his time with MI6 between 1947 and 1961, his arrest and conviction for spying in 1961 and his escape from prison and life in Russia.

Although it was accepted that Blake, now 73, had told the Russians all the secrets he knew, the Attorney General argued he still had a fiduciary duty to the Crown which surpassed his right to free speech.

Rejecting the claim, Scott ruled that once information had ceased to be secret any duty of confidence ended. He said the law did not impose a restriction on the freedom of speech of ex-SIS members unless a restriction was necessary for the protection of the service's interests. In this case there were no allegations that the contents of the book were confidential.

He did not accept arguments that Blake was under a continuing duty not to use his position to generate a profit.

While the date for Lyell's appeal is still a fair way off it has now entered the list of pending appeal actions.