4 April 2012
Leading Human Rights lawyers from Leigh Day & Co have added their voices to the concerns raised regarding the government’s plans for secret trials in some civil cases involving national security.
Criticism for the government’s plans has intensified following the publication of a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Government's Justice and Security Green Paper.
The report by the Committee says that the government has failed to make the case for extending "closed material procedures" to all civil proceedings and to inquests.
MPs and peers on the Committee said the Government has "not come anywhere close" to providing the proof needed to show why more court hearings and inquests should be held in secret.
It went on to describe the Government’s plans as a "radical departure from long-standing traditions of open justice”.
In response to the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke describing the proposals as "a common-sense solution to a genuine problem" the committee said in their report that the government had failed to show there was "a real, practical problem at all" with the current system.
Sapna Malik, Partner in the International Department at Leigh Day & Co said:
“At last Parliament is standing up to the vagaries of the spooks!
“The Government’s spurious assertion that increasing the use of closed procedures will lead to an increase in fairness and justice has, yet again, been resolutely rejected.
“As more evidence emerges of Britain’s role in rendition and torture post 9/11, the need for proper scrutiny of the UK’s past conduct and current practices only heightens. Such scrutiny cannot begin to take place if such cases are shunted off to a secret chamber.”
“Much reference has been made by the Government to the case of Binyam Mohamed as prompting the need for secret courts, in order to prevent damaging our intelligence-sharing relationship with the US. What should be remembered about Binyam’s case (which was key to revealing Britain’s complicity in the CIA’s rendition programme) is that the Court of Appeal only allowed 7 paragraphs of a court judgment summarising his treatment by the US to be published after the same information had been disclosed in the US. As the JCHR state in their report, US officials appear to have a “misperception” that UK courts cannot be trusted to ensure that sensitive information is not disclosed. The UK Government appears to be playing on this misperception for its own end.”
Baroness Berridge, of the JCHR, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the proposals would undermine the "adversarial" nature of the UK's justice system.
She said the plans "would bring about a fundamental change to the way courts operate", adding that she had not seen any evidence to justify such a move.
Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the Committee, said: "I was troubled that the Lord Chancellor did not seem to think that the proposals in the Green Paper were as radical a departure from our longstanding traditions of open justice and fairness as I, the Committee and many others believe them to be.
“It was also troubling to note that, as the Lord Chancellor himself acknowledged to the Committee, the Green Paper was not as clear as it should have been on the scope of its proposals or the narrowness of the justification for changing the law.”
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