The Attorney General would consider whether a prosecution was in the public interest before charges in the phone hacking leak investigation were brought under the Official Secrets Act, his office said today.
The Metropolitan Police was thought to be planning to use the Official Secrets Act to obtain an order that The Guardian should reveal its confidential sources for stories relating to the phone hacking scandal in a bid to identify potential police leaks.
But the consent of the Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC would be needed before any charges were brought under section five of the Official Secrets Act 1989, his office confirmed today.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s office said: “It is a matter for the police to decide how best to carry out any investigation.
“If the police provide evidence that would support a charge under section five of the Official Secrets Act the Attorney General’s consent would be required.
“If that stage is reached, the Attorney General, with the DPP (director of public prosecutions), will consider whether there is sufficient evidence and whether the public interest is in favour of bringing a prosecution.”
The force has applied for a production order against the Guardian and one of its reporters “in order to seek evidence of offences connected to potential breaches relating to Misconduct in Public Office and the Official Secrets Act”.
A senior investigating officer applied for the production order under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace), citing potential breaches of the Official Secrets Act, the force said.
Hollywood star Hugh Grant yesterday condemned police efforts to force journalists to disclose confidential sources, saying Scotland Yard’s decision was “worrying and deeply mysterious”.
Yesterday, veteran Lib Dem MP Don Foster, the party’s culture spokesman, said Mr Grieve should use his discretion to rule that invoking the Official Secrets Act was not in the public interest.
“I understand the Attorney General has the opportunity to use this power,” Mr Foster told the Guardian.
“He should use it and say this is not in the public interest.”