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Spycatcher Cases Conflict of Laws

Spycatcher Cases

The Spycatcher cases refer to a series of legal battles fought in the 1980s between the British government and Peter Wright, a former British intelligence officer, over the publication of Wright's book, "Spycatcher", including Attorney-General (UK) v Heinemann Publishers Australia Pty Ltd [1988] 165 CLR 30 and Attorney-General for the UK v Wellington Newspapers [1988] 1 NZKR 129.


Peter Wright was a former MI5 officer who worked for the British intelligence agency from 1955 to 1976. In 1985, he published his memoirs in a book titled "Spycatcher," which contained controversial allegations about the operations of MI5 and its officers, including accusations of illegal surveillance, bugging, and assassination plots against foreign leaders. The book was initially published in Australia, where British government attempts to prevent its publication were unsuccessful.


However, the British government sought to prevent the publication of the book in the UK and in other Commonwealth countries, arguing that it contained sensitive information that could compromise national security. The government obtained an injunction in the UK preventing the publication of the book, but this was circumvented by the book's wide distribution in other countries.


Peter Wright was subsequently dismissed from MI5 and went to live in Australia. He was later sued by the British government for breach of confidence, as well as for violating the Official Secrets Act. In the resulting court case, Wright argued that his disclosures were in the public interest and that the government's attempts to prevent the book's publication were a violation of his right to free speech.


The case was heard in a number of courts in the UK, and eventually went all the way to the House of Lords, which ruled in 1988 that the British government could not prevent the publication of the book in the UK. The ruling was based on the fact that much of the information contained in the book was already in the public domain, and that the government's attempts to suppress it were more about preserving its own reputation than protecting national security.


The Spycatcher cases were seen as a landmark in the protection of free speech and the right to publish in the UK, and had significant implications for the way in which sensitive information is handled by the British government.


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