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Spies, Traitors and Good Faith

NCJ Number
Journal of Financial Crime Volume: 4 Issue: 4 Dated: June 1997 Pages: 342-345
E T S Fung
Date Published
4 pages
This paper reviews the British court case of Attorney General v. Blake (1963), in which the Crown sought restitution from the money George Blake earned from a book about his traitorous actions, actions for which he had previously been convicted.
Blake was a member of the Crown Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) from 1944 to 1961, during which time he became an agent for the Soviet Union. In 1961 he was convicted on five counts of unlawfully communicating information in violation of the Official Secrets Act 1911. Although sentenced to 42 years in prison, Blake escaped from custody and fled to Moscow, where he still lives. His autobiography, "No Other Choice," was published in 1990 in the United Kingdom; the book documented, among other things, his activities as a member of the SIS and information acquired during his SIS service. The Attorney General subsequently brought action on behalf of the Crown to seek some 90,000 pounds to be paid by the publishers from Blake. It was alleged by the Crown that, in writing and subsequently authorizing the publication of the book, Blake had acted in breach of the fiduciary obligations he owed the Crown as an ex-member of the SIS. On the basis of the pleadings, the judge held that Blake did not owe the Crown a continuing duty not to use his position as a former servant so as to generate a profit or benefit for himself, or a continuing duty not to use any information imparted to him in that capacity for such a purpose. The general lifelong duty of confidence for ex- SIS employees is subject to one important caveat: such duty remains in existence only if the information continues to be confidential. By leaving the SIS and putting the information in the public domain, thus breaching his duty of confidence, Blake has brought the lifelong duty to an end. As the law currently stands, apparently the Crown has no remedy when a former member of the SIS discloses or misuses information that was originally confidential but has subsequently lost this status. The Crown may get relief by establishing a breach of fiduciary duties by its former employee, so long as each fiduciary duty is framed narrowly and precisely; otherwise, it would be an unreasonable restraint on the individual's ability to earn a living or an unnecessary restriction on freedom of speech. 17 references


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