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A writ from the Treasury Solicitors against the former secret service official accuses him of breaches of confidence and contract as well as flouting copyright laws on documentation held by MI5 and MI6.
The action is the latest in a long-running government battle to silence Mr Shayler, who has been accused of betraying British state secrets.
After making a series of claims about the working of the security and intelligence forces, he went into exile in France in 1997 and has been fighting attempts to extradite him back to Britain.
Efforts to launch a criminal prosecution against Mr Shayler under the Official Secrets Act have so far failed, prompting the Attorney General now to launch a civil action for damages against him in the High Court.
David Wadham, Mr Shayler's solicitor, said: "What we are seeing is the government taking to the civil courts in their bid to stop David Shayler from acting in the public interest.
"They are using a series of measures to try to make him shut up but we will be fighting this case on the basis that David has the right to freedom of expression and that the public has a right to know about malpractice in MI5."
Mr Wadham, who has been in regular contact with his client since the government writ was served in the High Court shortly before Christmas, said Mr Shayler's defence against the claims would be submitted on Monday.
A trial is unlikely to take place before the end of the year, when the right to freedom of expression becomes enforceable under British law.
This is enshrined under the European Charter of Human Rights.
Mr Wadham said the case could become the first test case for the human rights legislation in this country.
Mr Shayler hit the headlines in 1997, when he made a series of claims about the activities of MI5, including revelations that it had kept files on current politicians, including Home Secretary Jack Straw and former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson.
He also claims MI6 was involved in a plot to assassinate the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi.
David Shayler returned to the UK on 21 August 2000.
He was arrested immediately and charged with two offences under the Official Secrets Act for leaking information to the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
A month later he faced a third charge relating to passing on material obtained through telephone-tapping.
He appealed against the charges, saying he had revealed secrets for the public interest and that his right to freedom of speech would be infringed if the trial went ahead.
But the High Court rejected his arguments in May 2001 as did the Court of Appeal in September that year.
He was then allowed to present his appeal to the House of Lords but it too rejected his case in March 2002.
Shayler was finally convicted in November 2002 and sentenced to six months in prison but was released after serving less than seven weeks.
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