The Foreign and Commonwealth Office seem determined to stop me publishing my book. They are threatening four grounds of legal action:
b) Crown Copyright
c) Breach of Confidence
d) Official Secrets Act
The first point is that plainly this is an attempt to suppress the book and prevent publication by scaring me (and the publishers) with the threat of legal action. This will not work, as neither of us scare easily.
Let us then consider each of these proposed legal actions in turn ‘
I am confident that the book is entirely true, and thus does not libel anybody. The FCO is likely nonetheless to try to run a vexatious libel action by one of its staff named in the book. The book cannot be sold in the UK during such action, and this is the most likely way they will attempt to in effect ban the book by using millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in an endless court process
Following the publication of Christopher Meyer’s book, Jack Straw said that in future the government would actively consider the use of Crown copyright to prevent such further publications. This is a stretching of the copyright law, and the argument goes like this:
When I was in Uzbekistan, I was employed by the Crown, so the intellectual property in anything I learnt belongs to the Crown, just as the copyright of anything created by a Microsoft software designer belongs to Microsoft.
There are three problems in this. First, I don’t think my contract said any of that, while I bet the Microsoft contract does.
The second problem is that they are claiming by book is untrue and inaccurate. They are lying, but that is their claim. If they want to maintain that claim, how can they possibly argues that the Crown has copyright over things which are fictitious and did not happen while I was in their employ? The notion is absurd.
The third problem is much more fundamental. If this applies to me, it would also apply to every other employee of the crown, including not just Christopher Meyer but also, for example, Tony Blair. Now we know that Tony Blair has obtained a huge mortgage on a house based on a guaranteed advance for his memoirs of his time as Prime Minister. Now under the government’s new argument, Blair has sold something that didn’t belong to him at all, but belonged to the Crown.
The FCO will argue that it is for the Crown Prerogative to decide when to exercise Crown Copyright and when to let it go. In other words, they would sue me and not Tony Blair. And who exercises the Crown Prerogative? Why, the Prime Minister, of course.
So let us be clear about this. By delving about in the most remote and arcane backwaters of Britain’s unwritten constitution, the government is seeking to undermine freedom of speech and claim the power arbitrarily to ban books. If this argument were accepted by the courts, the government could ban books under Crown Prerogative without having to give any explanation or reason as to why they decided to ban a ‘Dissident’ book but allow their own propaganda.
It is essential to fight this completely undemocratic development.
Breach of Confidence
The FCO attempted to frame me with false disciplinary allegations, and leaked the details of those allegations to the press. Plainly they had broken the relationship of confidence between us. Furthermore I believe I am revealing illegal action by the government, breaking both international and domestic law by being complicit in torture.
In these circumstances a ‘whistleblower’ is protected from this kind of legal harassment. There is no way that the government would win this before the European Court.
Official Secrets Act
This is, of course, the ultimate attempt to scare us by threatening prison against free speech. The large majority of official documents quoted in this book were released to me under the Data Protection Act. There are no other official documents which have not already been released all over the web. I am confident this is bluster ‘ to ask a jury to convict someone for revealing government malpractice is not sensible, and I would love to see Jack Straw in that witness box.
This is an important fight. We have a government committed to illegal war abroad and an attack across the whole spectrum of civil liberties at home. After banning books comes burning books. If at some stage of the fight they want to send me to prison, I am prepared. We have to show that we will not be cowed, and that the truth cannot be suppressed. Frankly, if the government think they can bury this book, they are even barmier than I thought.