Friday, 8 August 2008

The British secret files (II)

On July 21, 2008, following the letter sent by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Public Prosecutor from Portimão, gave orders to delay the notification of the McCann and Murat lawyers until the Judge from the Criminal Court (CC) decided what part of the investigation files could be accessed, taking into account the arguments advanced in the ACPO letter. This was the reason why lawyers of the three "arguidos" knew about the decision to shelve the case through the Media, after the head of Public Prosecutor's Office issued the statement with the final decision.

Judge Pedro Frias replied asking to the Public Prosecutor to define, exactly, what could be considered as not suitable to be given access, according to legal rules – privacy protection and specific requests from the Portuguese Penal Code Rules about what kind of documents must be part of the investigation files.

On July 23, the Public Prosecutor sent a detailed information, with the page numbers, concerning the information that either was related with personal data of people that was investigated and had no connection with the case, or information sent by Crimestoppers. A few hundred pages were referred as having information that should not be available for consultation.

Also five volumes with intelligence about sexual crimes and other kind of crimes, from several sources, including British police, were considered to violate privacy rights and lack connection with the case.

Final decison

The Public Prosecutor proposed to the Criminal Court judge that those pages and the five volumes should be taken out from the investigation files and remained secret. The same day, Judge Pedro Frias received the formal request from the Portuguese Lawyers hired by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Chief Constable of Leicestershire, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), Crimestoppers and several British police forces and judicial bodies – a request that he dismissed, as he considered that none of those institutions, associations and police forces had the legal right to make it. With some irony, he added a comment, referring that it seemed those organizations and police forces wanted to act as if they were the Portuguese Public Prosecutor's Office.

However, the Criminal Court judge accepted the proposal from the Public Prosecutor and decided to keep secret a few hundred pages mentioned as having personal data that could violate privacy rights and were not considered related with the case. He also accepted the request to keep confidential all information – five volumes - made available by Crimestoppers.

Duarte Levy and Paulo Reis