OFFICIAL SECRETS. At common law there was, and is, no such offence as espionage in time of peace. In time of war, however, the act of communicating information useful to an enemy State was always punishable under the head of treason. In 1889, by the first Official Secrets Act this gap in the law was filled by making it a felony to obtain or communicate any "sketch," information, or "document" concerning the country's defences which "might be useful to an enemy" for "any purpose prejudicial to the safety of the State." This very necessary stat ute was, however, almost completely diverted from its original purpose by successive Acts of 191I and 1920, into a statute for the better protection of the bureaucracy against well-informed criticism. Entirely new sections were introduced making it an offence, punishable with two years' hard labour, for anyone who has ever served the Crown to communicate to "any person" any "information" whether prejudicial to the State or not which he has acquired in his official capacity. It is sufficient for a convic tion that the "information" was acquired when the person corn municating it was serving the Crown and the accused is not allowed to plead, or prove, that publication was " in the public in terest." Truth is also no defence; it is, in fact, essential to a con
viction. If the accused can prove that the "information" he com municated was false, he will be acquitted. Any person connected with a newspaper, director, editor, leader-writer, receiving the in formation is also liable to conviction. It is unnecessary for the prosecution to prove mens rea (guilty intent), on the part of such recipient. Search warrants may be issued, for the purpose of such prosecution, by any superior police officer without the usual au thorization of a magistrate; any newspaper office may be raided and any member of the staff who refuses, or omits, to give infor mation to the police is guilty of a statutory offence. These ex traordinary departures from the rules of law prevailing in England are the result of these statutes and their interpretation in Rex v. Crisp and Homewood, 83 J. p. 121, and Rex v. Blake (Times Law Report, 16th December 1926). The Acts have been the subject of deservedly severe criticism, and the Newspaper Proprietors Asso ciation are now agitating for their drastic amendment.
(J. H. Mo.)