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United Kingdom: Operation of the Defence Advisory Notice

(Apr. 16, 2009) The head of Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism division recently made a serious blunder when secret documents were inadvertently disclosed by him as he held a piece of paper showing the upcoming operation face up in a clear folder on his way to a meeting with the Prime Minister. Despite the paper only being on display for seconds, it was captured by the telephoto lenses of the press. This disclosure has brought public attention to the use in the United Kingdom of its Defence Advisory Notice system (also referred to as a D Notice or DA Notice). This system supplements the more formal system of enforcing state secrets through the Official Secrets Acts and is a “voluntary code that provides guidance to the British media on the publication or broadcasting of national security information.” (The Defence, Press & Broadcasting Advisory Committee, The DA Notice System, (last visited Apr. 9, 2009).) The aim of the DA notice is to “prevent inadvertent public disclosure of information that would damage national security and operations.” (Id.)

The DA Notice is not provided for in legislation and has no legal authority. It is overseen by a joint government and media body known as the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee, which issues DA Notices through formal letters to the media and monitors implementation. As a result of the inadvertent disclosure of secret documents showing the plans for dawn raids in the northwestern region of England, the timeframe for the raid was moved forward and 12 men were arrested. (HILAIRE BARNETT, CONSTITUTIONAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE LAW (2004) at 691; Police Chief, Bob Quick, Resigns from the Met over Terror Blunder, THE TIMES (London), Apr. 9, 2009, available at; Police Move Quick to Arrest Terror Suspects Across the North West, THE TIMES (London), Apr. 9, 2009, available at; see also, for more information on the DA Notice, THE D NOTICE SYSTEM, 1967, Cmnd 3312; REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE OF PRIVY COUNCILLORS APPOINTED TO INQUIRE INTO 'D' NOTICE MATTERS, 1967, Cmnd 3309; DEFENCE COMMITTEE, THIRD REPORT: THE 'D' NOTICE SYSTEM, 1979-80, H.C. 773; MINISTRY OF DEFENCE, THE DEFENCE ADVISORY NOTICES: A REVIEW OF THE 'D' NOTICE SYSTEM, 93/1993.)