Lawyers acting for Bernard Collaery will next week challenge a court order requiring large parts of his trial to be held in secret as the long-running case continues into his alleged efforts to expose a secret Australian operation to bug East Timor’s government.
The ACT Court of Appeal will hold a two-day hearing on Monday and Tuesday into an order made under national security laws to hold the trial largely behind closed doors.
Mr Collaery, the former lawyer for an ex-spy known as Witness K, is challenging an order made by the ACT Supreme Court last year to accept former attorney-general Christian Porter’s application to invoke the National Security Information Act, which governs how courts should handle sensitive information. The NSI Act requires the court to give “greatest weight” to the Attorney-General’s views about the national security implications of a case, which has resulted in large portions of the hearings being held in secret.
Mr Collaery, a barrister and former ACT attorney-general, is facing the prospect of jail for allegedly helping his client reveal information about Australia’s bugging operation of East Timor’s government during commercial negotiations to carve up the oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea.
Witness K, a former intelligence officer for the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, has indicated he will plead guilty to breaching secrecy laws by revealing Australia’s spying on East Timor, but Mr Collaery is continuing to fight the charges against him. The Witness K case is being held up by disagreements over whether he can access his affidavit that was used by East Timor in international proceedings in the Hague, which his lawyers argue need to be before the court for his sentencing.
Mr Collaery is charged with offences relating to the alleged disclosure of information to both the East Timor government and the Australian media.
After East Timor commenced legal proceedings in the International Court of Justice and Permanent Court of Arbitration, the two nations signed a revised energy treaty in 2018 dividing the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields.
Human Rights Law Centre senior lawyer Kieran Pender said there was no public interest in prosecuting Mr Collaery and Witness K.