Bindmans sees official cleared of secrets leak

Civil liberties specialist Bindman & Partners has successfully defended a civil servant accused of breaching the Official Secrets Act after leaking secret documents to the media.

Foreign Office employee Derek Pasquill faced six charges of making disclosures damaging to international relations under s3 Official Secrets Act 1989 after passing confidential documents to the New Statesman and The Observer. Pasquill did this due to concerns about Foreign Office policy in the wake of bombings in London.

The documents dealt with topics such as “hearts and minds of Muslims”, “engaging with Islamists”, conversations between the home secretary and foreign secretary, “detainees” and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Bindmans instructed Matrix chambers’ Julian Knowles, who told the court that the disclosure of the documents was in the public interest in relation to debates about public policy on engaging with radical Islam and the practice of “extraordinary rendition”.

But prosecutors today told an Old Bailey judge that internal Foreign Office documents disclosed as part of the legal process would have undermined the prosecution case that the leaks were damaging.

Knowles said the documents should have been released earlier, saving Mr Pasquill the stress of a 20-month Special Branch investigation.

Bindman partner & head of the firm’s criminal team Neil O’May said: “This prosecution was a scandal. It was a case of the Government shooting the messenger. Derek Pasquill disclosed documents in the belief that the public had a right to know about dangerous Government policies.

“We now know that individuals in the Foreign Office agreed with him and supported his call to change Government policy.

“Despite that, special branch officers arrested him and he was charged on the advice of senior Government lawyers with offences carrying imprisonment.”

O’May added that the Foreign Office withheld documents disclosing its agreement with Derek Pasquill’s position for a full two years, resulting in him facing the full force of a criminal prosecution.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) instructed CPS barrister Piers Arnold.