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ATTORNEY-GENERAL FAILS ON ‘ALAN JOHNS’ SECRECY CASE: Senate inquiry into national security and the courts required

19 December 2019


The Attorney-General, Christian Porter MP, has provided an answer to a question on notice asked by Senator Rex Patrick concerning the secret trial and conviction of the former Australian intelligence officer known by the pseudonym of “Alan Johns”, also known as “Witness J”. 

"While the Attorney-General has very grudgingly revealed some information about this extraordinary secret trial, he has refused to answer many key questions," Senator Patrick said. 

"Mr Porter’s response falls woefully short of what his position as the first law officer of the Commonwealth, responsible to the Parliament, requires."

"The Attorney-General’s role in these proceedings, as well as the separate prosecution of Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery, raises very serious concerns about his commitment, or rather lack of commitment, to open justice."

"The Attorney-General has declined to reveal the actual charges brought against ‘Alan Johns’. We still don’t know what national secrecy law underpinned the charges. We still don’t know which intelligence agency was involved."

"The Attorney-General notes that these matters are subject to court orders imposing secrecy, but he is the responsible authority that sent his representatives into the courts to argue for a total information blackout."

"No information has been provided about when the investigation of Mr Johns commenced, when any arrest was made, when the Attorney-General gave his consent to the prosecution, or when he invoked the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act 2004 – the NSI Act – to pull a shroud of secrecy over the entire proceedings. The timeline of this matter remains suppressed."

"As a consequence of this near complete secrecy, there is no accountability for the intelligence agency executives who presided over events that apparently involved an unlawful breach of secrecy that the Attorney-General claims had the potential to endanger the lives or safety of others. This is significant because it is claimed by ‘Alan Johns’ that a failure by his agency to respond to significant mental health issues was part of the circumstances that led to him being charged."

"The ‘Alan Johns case’ raises very serious concerns about the extent to which national secrecy laws have encroached on and compromised the vital principle of open justice in Australia. In this instance we have had secret charges laid, a secret trial, a secret conviction, a secret sentencing and a secret imprisonment. The total secrecy imposed on this matter must not be a precedent for future."

"The Attorney-General claims that the matter ‘is unique in my experience, and I am not aware of any other similar cases.’ Unfortunately, we may never know if this is the case, but we cannot permit the Attorney-General to be the judge in his own cause."

"Against this background it would be timely for the Parliament to revisit the provisions and operation of the NSI Act, and to that end I will seek to establish an inquiry by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee when the Parliament resumes sitting in February 2020. There are important principles of open justice that need to be safeguarded."

The text of the Attorney-General’s answer to questions asked by Senator Patrick can be found here.